'Rodent's Guide to Lawyers': ratting on the firm


"Explaining the Unexplainable: The Rodent's Guide to Lawyers," by The Rodent. 198 pages. Pocket Books. $16 Big cheeses beware: The Rodent is back, with a new appetite - and attitude.

Until now it (Rodent is genderless) has been content to lob its incendiary insights into big law firms via an underground newsletter, "The Rodent." With animal cunning, the Rodent evaded traps baited by the burned-up Big Cheeses (partners) in its 1,800-lawyer firm, and, as a sort of terrorist-satirist, mercilessly lampooned the pomp and pretense of The Firm (sorry, John Grisham, the Rodent snatched your book title).

Eventually the newsletter became a newspaper column, and now - move over Uncle Tom and Nelson Mandela - the Rodent's book joins the literature of the oppressed.

Who, in this case, start at $60,000-plus a year, which is one of two reasons why this zippy little book never goes beyond laughs for lawyers. The Rodent makes a token bid for a wider audience (promising "everything you wanted to know about the profession but didn't want to be charged $250 an hour to find out"), but its real target is coIleagues in the same rat race, specifically highly paid junior lawyers (associates) in big firms. Associates are indeed often torturously overworked, a central Rodent theme, and associates will relish this in-the-partner's-face account of their servitude. But for the rest of the world, lawyers make less than compelling victims.

The other shortcoming, usually fatal, but maybe not here, is that the Rodent has nothing new to say. Indeed, the Rodent's Guide is more a Pack Rat's Anthology: lots of stuff previously published, often by the Rodent itself. The author's claim that there is no other guide book for "delving into the Lawyer Culture" is emphatically rebutted by a computer search for books on the subject "Lawyer" which turns up 27,616 titles, and the Rodent's central thesis, that ". . . The Firm is a hotbed of overcharged clients, overpaid lawyers and oversized egos" is less than startling. Plus, there's not even a stab at offering any Rodent Remedies.

But having nothing to say, the Rodent says it uproariously. A cradle-to-grave account of the life journey of a big firm lawyer, this book is an often hilarious parody of daily trials and treachery in The Firm. Real examples (Rodent Tales), whimsical internal firm memos and outrageous lawyer vignettes (Rodent Droppings) are skillfully stitched together, linked by theme of lawyer greed. Although occasionally repetitous, this book will make law firm employees roar - with either laughter or rage, depending on their place in the profession's food chain - and there are no neutrals left when the Rodent finally skulks away.

Speaking of skulking, Rodent, why don't you just come in from the cold? We've got your firm, it's Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie, the only one close to 1,800 lawyers, so it's just a matter of time. And after all, hiding behind a nom de guerre is fine if you're Che Guevara or The Jackal, but if you're just another paper-pushing lawyer killing yourself in an impossible quest for partnership that will be ultimately unfulfilling even if you somehow get it, why worry about being fired?

Unless, maybe, you're really a Big Cheese.

David W. Marston is author of "Malice Aforethought: How Lawyers Use Our Secret Rules to Get Rich, Get Sex, Get Even . . . and Get Away with It" and co-authored "Inside Hoover's FBI: The Top Field Chief Reports." He was the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1976 to 1979.

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