Monday, May 7, 2007

Wendel and the Curmudgeon on Good Judgment

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Brad Wendel has another thoughtful piece over at Legal Ethics Forum on the rescission of the job offer previously extended to the law student who helped run Auto Admit, the purported law school discussion board that turned into a haven for anonymous and horrific chatboard colloquy.

It's always a pleasure to read Brad's insights on practice because, as they say, he's been there and done that in the large firm environment.  Here's a sample:

I could write a long post on the concept of judgment at a big law firm, but for the purposes of this discussion, one of the aspects of good judgment is not unnecessarily exposing the firm (or clients, of course) to risks.  Associates who wrote boneheaded letters to opposing counsel, filed overly aggressive motions to compel, acted like Paulie Walnuts in depositions, and yelled at secretaries and paralegals were deemed to exhibit poor judgment.  The firm tried to avoid hiring new lawyers who would create "judgment" problems, and in every class of summer associates there was at least one person who didn't get an offer -- or got one only after a long discussion on the hiring committee -- because of fears that this person would do something stupid as an associate.

Way back when I was a second year associate, we had a member of our entering associate class who apparently finished in eighth place in the Detroit-Windsor Marathon.  Since that meant running a marathon in about the 2:20 range, by and large the finishers at that level were professional runners and all knew each other.  Nobody could remember ever seeing him until the last couple miles.  The Free Press, which was the primary sponsor of the race, began an investigation and contacted the firm.  As I recall, the associate was indefinitely and later permanently suspended for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.  Just recently I got into a knock-down drag-out argument with a friend who questioned why a law firm would fire an associate under those circumstances (and whether it had the legal right to doCurmudgeon so).

And speaking of practical good judgment, I just opened an envelope and pulled out a copy of Mark Herrmann's The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law, published by our very own ABA Section of Litigation.  I'd say about 50% is good common sense (how not to abuse e-mail, how to write a law firm memo, etc.) and about 50% is the Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing with the Curmudgeon (example:  the Curmudgeon doesn't like to get notes passed to him during arguments or examinations; I had a working relationship with a partner who liked getting notes and incorporated them seamlessly into what he was doing).  But it is a fast, fun read.

I particularly liked the chapter entitled "The Curmudgeon on Couth."  The Curmudgeon focuses mainly on the practice itself, and not on uncouthness like summer and permanent associates drinking too much at firm gatherings.  Here's my particular piece of advice, given that the season is just about upon us.  I like a drink as much as the next guy, but professional gatherings, and particularly law firm parties, are not, despite the bar, drinking occasions.  (There is even some debate whether they are occasions during which you should expect to have fun.  My vote is no, but reasonable people can differ.)  If you pour some sparkling water into a highball glass and throw in a lime, it looks like a gin and tonic.  When you are twenty-five and buzzed, you endanger your career by acting like an idiot.  When you are sixty and buzzed, you endanger your career by hitting on the twenty-five year olds.  (Trust me, I have seen it all.)  Here it is thirty years later, and I still don't drink (you may see me holding one, but is it being consumed?) at professional gatherings.

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