Whenever I am in the office and going about my work, I get side comments from staff that loosely translate as “sure, whatever, Old Bone Kenobi.” It generally comes when I ask Greg to fax something for me or if I’m hanging out at the water cooler in the lobby and talking about practicing law out of my car. Over the years, though, I’ve noticed the comments are increasing, so much so that I’m concerned I’ve become what’s well-known in the legal marketing business as “Old Codger Lawyer,” a species of lawyer that is at least two generations behind but still proudly unaware of it. Thankfully, I’ve done some initial research and, thanks to younger associates, have some advice on what to look for and what to avoid.
A sure sign of an old codger lawyer is the frequent use of Latin legal phrases as if they mean something. Mens rea, for example, went out of fashion in the 1980’s. Criminal lawyer still trying to use it in cases these days? You are dated, old man. Some other obvious phrases are uno flatu, nunc pro tunc, and magna carta. Res ipsa, though, is still annoyingly acceptable so long as lawyers continue to name their softball league teams with some variation of the phrase.
Lawyers used to mail things back and forth and thus relax on weekends. They did this by using postage. Not only that, but prepaid postage, no “COD” bullshit. Old codger lawyers still do this, plus they use the overkill method of sending routine letters by fax and U.S. mail. But they announce it in all caps on their letterhead, as in “SENT BY FACSIMILE AND U.S. MAIL.” Some old codgers drop the preceding “Sent” as a touch of modernism, sort of an implied and nuanced “sent.” Others add the “Postage Prepaid” indication at the end, largely to emphasize that the firm is still living large or, in reality, living in the time of the pony express. Oh, if you still include the original by mail after already faxing it, then you are incurably old.
Old codger lawyers are not always so blissfully unaware of their aged pedigree. Some are terribly worried about being relegated to the old codger scrap heap and looked over when email invites to the daily happy hour go out. So, they naturally do what all old codgers do: try to talk the talk. And to do that, they do two things: 1) add an “O” to the end of your name, as in “Bill-O”; and 2) consult the online Urban Dictionary each day in an attempt to throw out a crunked word here and there. Worse, in desperation, some old codger lawyers like to string several Urban Dictionary words together, as if misused slang has exponential power, like “Hey, Steve-O, your memo was like some mad shiat, ya know what I’m sayin?” If confronted with this, just nod slowly and think of it as a linguistic comb-over for the legally aged.
Dropping names like “Arnie Beckman” or asking associates “What Would Markowitz Do” is a solid sign you have old codger disease. Even if you were the biggest LA Law fan in the show’s heyday in the late 1980s, don’t talk about it in mixed company. Letting a giddy phrase slip out ages you instantly (e.g., “It’s time you people remember whose name is at the top of the letterhead!”). Same goes for recalling episodes fondly, as in excitedly saying to another old codger “Remember when Kelsey and Markowitz went to court to testify against the ‘yuppie bandit’ who stole Markowitz’s Rolex watch that Kelsey bought with money from Roxanne’s insider stock tips? Man, that was choice.” Same goes for mentioning Harry Hamlin and wondering wistfully where he is today. It’s all off limits.
An old codger lawyer’s linguistic stock-in-trade is using old acronyms to confuse younger attorneys. Except that the old codger is genuinely confused by the younger associate’s own confusion. If you walk into a senior partner’s office and he or she says “Hey, Steve-O, grab the bear by the balls and get me the latest ALR and CJS on ERISA, and I’m not talking ALR 2d,” then you’ve just witnessed advanced old codger lawyer disease. If it happens to you, don’t be shy. Just pipe up and say “I got no fuckin’ clue what you just said, old man.”