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June 27, 2006

The 7 Habits of Highly Useless Corporate Lawyers.

"Ernie from Glen Burnie", not his real name, is an unreliable but wise childhood friend of mine who likes the works of Hunter Thompson. EFGB is now a partner at a Washington, DC law firm. For years he has claimed that the following--by an unknown and long-dead lawyer, and dated 1836--was discovered during the 1980s in the ruins of an old Episcopal church in a northern Virginia town near our native DC. I would believe EFGB--except that I doubt that the word "weenie" was much in style in the antebellum American south:

1. Be risk-averse at all times. Clients have come to expect this from their lawyers. It's tradition. Honor it.

2. Tell the client only what it can't do. Business clients are run by business people who take risks. They need to be managed, guided, stopped. Don't encourage them.

3. Whatever you do, don't take a stand, and don't make a recommendation. (You don't want to be wrong, do you?)

4. Treat the client as a potential adversary at all times. Keep a distance.

5. Cover yourself. Write a lot to the client. Craft lots of confirming letters which use clauses like "it is our understanding", "our analysis is limited to..." and "we do not express an opinion as to whether..."

6. Churn up extra fees with extra letters and memoranda and tasks. Milk the engagement. (If you are going to be a weenie anyway, you might as well be a sneaky weenie.)

7. As out-house counsel, you are American royalty. Never forget that.

Posted by JD Hull at June 27, 2006 10:14 PM


A complaint I heard frequently over the past 50+ years of practice from clients and others dealing with lawyers, was that lawyers spent their time trying to kill deals rather than making them work. While there is not a loser in every deal, many deals end up as losers. Now how often did I want to say "I told you so" to a client who ended up a loser on a deal that I had strong doubts about which I had expressed early on to the client? Many attorneys have told me that they do not try to kill even bad deals because of their concern they will not be paid for a killed deal, even if it is in the best interests of the client.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at July 1, 2006 03:40 AM

The comments apply just as much to in-house counsel who have to deal with their own business units as their clients. A recent Australian survey of in-house counsel found that one of the most pressing business concerns for in-house counsel was keeping apprised of corporate activities which have legal implications. Unless in-house counsel are offering business solutions, rather than being risk adverse and placing barriers in the way, their own business unit clients will stop advising counsel of proposed activities and simply proceed without seeking advice.

Posted by: Liz Harris at July 5, 2006 03:27 PM

Can I share some resources with you?

Posted by: tom at July 5, 2006 08:26 PM

Tom--Of course you can. Dan

Posted by: Dan Hull at July 5, 2006 08:49 PM

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