Best Case Name Ever (A Jacke Wilson Objectino)

Another day, another Objectino.* This one straight from the courthouse…

A JACKE WILSON OBJECTINO

Overheard at a legal proceeding:

LAWYER 1: What’s the best case name you ever cited in a brief? For me, I figure it’s gotta be Lone Star Ladies v. Schlotzsky’s Deli. Or here’s one for you: Fattman v. Bear. New Jersey case.

LAWYER 2: Fattman v. Bear? [chuckling] That’s pretty vivid.

LAWYER 1: No kidding. [shudders] Kind of makes me feel ill, just picturing it.


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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #6: The Mugs

As lawyers we sold our time. We made no other product, we had no other purpose. My day was carved up into tiny slices—tenths of an hour. Want a piece of me? You can have it in six-minute increments, rounded up.

And at the end of each day, I tallied it up. Client number 1: three point eight hours. Client number two: four point one. Client number three: zero point two. And so on. It all added up to one thing: me. My job. My day. My life.

Dehumanizing? I tried not to think about it. If I had, I might have felt like this guy:

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Awaking to Find You’re a Monstrous Vermin (The Promotion Excerpt #6)

In Which the Narrator Tiptoes into the World of the Mysterious Mina Meinl

Even now it gives me chills to think of that moment when I heard the name for the first time. The way the words sounded, coming through those teeth. It was a name at the heart of the strangest experience of my life. And yet it sounded so foreign to me—I, who was then so innocent—that I initially thought it was the name of a corporate entity. Mina-Meinl. A company that made industrial machinery, perhaps. An investment vehicle that shipped grain out of the Ukraine. Not a person. Not a woman. Not someone I would ever, ever meet.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Not a what but a who,” Linn explained. “An investor of some kind.”

She explained what was known. During the exam, the accountants had discovered that this woman, Mina Meinl, had been offered co-invest opportunities on all the investments for all of the funds.

I was familiar with the concept of co-invest. Fortinbras Capital Management spent a ton of money looking for good investments—a hotel chain in Abu Dhabi, say, or an office park in Kuala Lumpur, or a string of mines in South Africa. After the Fortinbras funds had invested as much as they wanted, Fortinbras would open up investment to other investors as well.

Sometimes these opportunities were used as favors—a sweetener to get a prospective investor into one of the large funds. All this was fully disclosed, of course, and consistent with their fiduciary obligations. Nevertheless the SEC examined co-invest carefully. The first thing the SEC staff looked for was people who had gotten more than their fair share. According to Linn, the odd thing about Mina Meinl was not how much she got but how little.

“Five million in co-invest blends in,” she said. “Fifty thousand stands out.”

“Who is she?”

“Nobody knows.”

“How did this happen?”

Linn shrugged.

My internal investigation antennae were twitching. I specialized in this! I casually said that it sounded like they could use my services.

“Maybe I should call Darrin?” I suggested, referring to the general counsel of Fortinbras.

Linn shook her head. “No need. They decided it’s not material. The SEC didn’t notice it, and the next exam won’t be for a couple of years.”

“Aren’t they trying to figure it out?”

Linn said she didn’t know. She suspected that Darrin had other problems to deal with.

“Mina Meinl,” I said. Saying the name out loud gave me goosebumps.

“The great mystery,” Linn said.

We had to talk about recruiting. I made a few general remarks about process and goals, and she nodded as she checked the messages on her phone, but in fact my mind was just as preoccupied as hers.

A lot had changed. I had a new set of responsibilities, giving me a sense of purpose. We would be hiring a lot of new people, which was a large commitment of resources. And for the people we’d be hiring, it would be life-changing. It was important to make sure the new hires fit in our culture and wanted to do what we had in mind for them. The entire firm depended on its people, and I would be a major contributing factor to the future of the firm.

Looking back, I can see that something else was already growing in me. A seed had been planted and had already taken root. Soon it would sprawl across my mind like fast-growing kudzu, dominating all other foliage with its tangled, smothering vines.

Mina Meinl. The great mystery indeed.

Next: In Which the Narrator Begins to Realize His Deputy Could Destroy His Life-Changing Plans

Need to catch up? Check out Excerpt #5: In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future. Or start at the beginning.

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions.

One Flew Over the Law Firm (The Promotion Excerpt #5)

In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future

We started, as lawyers always do, by defining ourselves according to our practice areas. She nodded when I gave my little sentence about being a specialist in government and internal investigations, some white collar, a lot of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act work lately…

“We have overlap,” she said, nodding. “I do compliance for investment advisers.”

I couldn’t think of much else to talk about except recruiting, a topic I was trying to hold in reserve, because once we finished with that we’d head back to the office, where I had nothing to do. I asked her how things looked in the “compliance space” these days.

“Awesome,” she said. “Everyone is scared shitless.”

I was struck by how the word shitless emerged through her perfect white teeth, which did not ever open very far when she spoke, as if she were thinking hard about each word or had some kind of pain in her mouth.

It turned out we had some clients in common, including Fortinbras Capital Management, a very large investment firm I had helped with an FCPA matter involving a woman they’d hired in China who had stolen money and—it turned out—was having an affair with the mayor of Shanghai. The matter had taken a year to resolve and had resulted in a thirty-slide PowerPoint and a decision by the DOJ not to prosecute.

“That was you?” she said, displaying a level of surprise that another person might have found offensive. I merely nodded and asked how the CCO was doing.

“She was fired,” Linn said. “Too many bad emails at that place.”

I said that it hardly seemed fair to hold a chief compliance officer responsible for the emails of hundreds of employees, especially in a place like Fortinbras, where pushing the envelope was standard among the business folks.

“They were her emails.”

“Oh.”

Linn went on to describe an examination that Fortinbras had just gone through. Overall the exam had gone well. The SEC had cited them for a few deficiencies, which was expected, but these were minor and had not led to any enforcement actions. Management was pleased, except for one thing.

“And what was that?” I asked.

Linn’s eyes narrowed. “Mina Meinl,” she said.

Next: In Which the Narrator Tiptoes into the World of the Mysterious Mina Meinl

Need to Catch Up? Check out The Promotion Minisode #4: In Which the Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions.

Paperback Now Available! (And Bonus Minisode!)

Here we go! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback of The Promotion is now for sale at Amazon.com!  Kindle version is also available. Amazon’s currently running a sale on both The Race and The Promotion in honor of the new release.

And now…a special bonus episode of The Promotion. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #3: In Which The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

Today’s Excerpt: The Promotion Minisode #4: In Which the Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Later that afternoon I met with the two assistant directors that Jennifer had scraped from the dregs of the firm’s partnership. The first was Martin Shvets, a transaction lawyer twenty years into his career but who had only been at our firm for a year or two. He was a tall, Slavic-looking man with longish brown hair and round, gold-framed glasses. Thin nose, permanent sneer.

He began our meeting by informing me that Jennifer had offered him the directorship—my position—and that he had “of course” refused to accept. Too much thankless work, he said, and no extra pay, not even a bonus. And dealing with all those résumés, all those law school morons who think they’re smart enough to work at our firm but who know nothing at all.

Nothing at all,” he repeated, as if he were accusing me of something. “Less than nothing. Worse than nothing.”

I offered a feeble shrug in return.

“Only a jackass would take that job,” he said, staring at me with contempt.

He had a manner of speaking in which his lips were always on the verge of curling with disgust, not exactly a smile but not exactly not a smile.

He had another characteristic I soon learned firsthand: whenever he shook hands with you, he stepped on your foot and made eye contact in an aggressive way. It was never clear if he’d done so on purpose or if he was merely clumsy, but this didn’t matter. Either way his response was the same. He hurt you. He defied you to do something about it. No one ever did.

Now, in his office, I mumbled something about looking forward to working with him and made my exit. Fight or flight, and the jackass chose flight. Not so much from fear but exhaustion. Let Martin go back to his stupid little desk with his stupid little phone calls and the rest of his stupid little world. I was on a high and did not want to let him drag me down.

The other assistant director, Linn, was famous in the office and even beyond, in a certain sense. Linn was the twin sister of a Swedish model who had been married to one of the most famous people in the world before a spectacular scandal had made his wife—and her twin sister—an internationally recognizable face. And just like her sister, Linn was tall and blonde and striking, a Nordic queen whose beauty stopped conversations cold. I had really only seen her a few times in the elevator and hallways—a vivid experience each time—and I could hardly believe we were working together.

She squinted as I introduced myself. Her eyes became little blue hyphens. Everything about her was adorable and perfect.

“We should take a coffee,” she said. “Do you like espresso?”

“Love it,” I heard myself shout.

We went to a nearby chain that was technically from Minnesota but had a Scandinavian feel. Although this was late August and D.C. was insufferably hot and humid, the coffee house had the air conditioning on full blast. With the wooden floors and tables and a silent fireplace cozying up the place, I felt as if I was watching her in her native habitat. Fresh off the slopes, enjoying a pick-me-up in the lodge before heading to the sauna.

My heart was pounding.

Next: In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions.

Free Fiction: The Promotion Minisode #3

As previously announced, The Promotion: A Novella is now available for sale from Amazon as an e-book. I just approved the print version, which should be available very soon. As usual, I’m trying to keep costs down for the reader by pricing the e-book at $2.99 and the paperback at $4.99, at least for now. I’m also releasing sections of the book in a series of minisodes. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #2: In Which the Annihilation of the Narrator’s Soul Leads to a Stunning Development

The Promotion Minisode #3: In Which The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

I am aware that the purpose of all this is to explain my disappearance. And I know this is a serious task I need to take seriously and that my relationship with this firm will depend on the mah mah mah etc. I’ve heard the rumors—that I was hit by a midlife crisis (which of course is my business) and tried to reinvent myself as a television writer (not entirely true and is anyway my business). Or that I became obsessed with a woman I had never met (my business!), or that I got on a plane with the intention of kidnapping and/or killing that woman (my business!!!).

Oh, but you’re busy? You like having the main points summarized, up front? In bullet points? Because you’re so busy and important? Oh, yes you are! Everyone in this office knows it! And they believe it because you act like you are!

No. I will not be rushed. Not this time.

I’m telling you what you need to understand first.

#

I should have jumped at the promotion, of course. A passionate person would have! But I am cautious to a fault, ruled if anything by an absence of passion. I have been called “dead in personality, dead in spirit, a walking void,” a characterization I accept. And of course I was still numb from the revelation of the nothing email. Even as Jennifer the office manager sat in the chair across from me, all smiles and positive energy, I elided the two developments, the epiphany that I was worth nothing and the offer of a promotion. What I did was worthless and yet the firm was eager for me to do more.

They thought I’d be good in a new role with increased responsibility, Jennifer said. Also they had looked at the numbers and noticed that I was in a “slow cycle” of billable hours.

I heard all this and imagined that somehow they had seen my draft email with the typo. Worth nothing. How widespread was this knowledge?

Jennifer finished her description of the offer. I had understood enough to know it had to do with recruiting. An administrative task, in other words, like serving on the Management Committee or the Emergency Procedures Committee or the Green-the-Office! Committee.

I realized I was nodding my head.

“So you’ll do it?” Jennifer asked.

My mind was beginning to clear. Recruiting! Every fall our firm hired between sixty and eighty newly minted attorneys, who arrived the following summer, eager to please. They changed everything about the place: gave it new energy, pushed us in new directions, helped us serve our clients in new ways. And I would be involved in bringing them in? This was not a nothing!

I tried to stay casual. “I’m pretty busy right now, Jennifer. But I agree—it’s an important job. You need to find the right person.”

“Yeah. Anyway, my understanding is that you’re not that busy. According to your billable hours, you’re one of the lowest-performing attorneys—”

“I’ll make time,” I said. “Who else is on the committee?”

“To be clear we’re not just asking you to serve on the committee,” Jennifer said. “We’re asking you to be the director. I hope that’s okay.”

Her demeanor implied that others had turned her down. I felt sorry for her.

“Even better,” I said grandly.

She laughed and touched her lips several times, a nervous tic of hers. “You’ll be given a new title. Director of Recruiting and Development. We’ll add it to your online bio, of course.”

“Of course.”

This was more responsibility than I had ever been given at the firm. It felt like a new era.

I asked what kind of development they were asking me to coordinate.

“Attorney development,” Jennifer explained. “Ongoing education requirements. How to gain new skills, how to become an expert in a specific practice area, preparing for life after the firm. Everything that helps the lawyers at our firm become better lawyers. It’s a valuable job.”

Valuable!

The timing of this was extraordinary. I asked her several more questions. How much of my time was expected? Who had done this in the past, and how long had they served in this capacity? Who would help me? And what did it mean that I had a new title?

Jennifer smiled in an apologetic way. “Well…it doesn’t affect your compensation or anything. It’s more of an honorific.”

“Of course,” I said with a small shrug, as if I were doing her a favor. I was already starting to imagine the impact I would have. I could tap the talent pool in new and interesting ways. I would strive to put together a perfect blend of top-tier candidates with scrappy underdogs. This was not a mindless administrative task. I would leave my mark on the firm.

“We only need to change the bio for two weeks,” Jennifer was saying. “Then we can take it down.”

I frowned. “Take what down?”

“The title. Recruiting season will be over, and we’ll remove it from your bio.”

“What about Development?”

She smiled sheepishly. “Well… the truth is you don’t actually do anything for that.”

“Oh,” I said.

“We add it for marketing reasons.”

“Oh,” I said again.

We stared at each other.

“Well, I don’t mind having it on there,” I said to break the silence. “I can be the permanent Director of Recruiting and Development! You don’t have to take it down.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “We want to.”

I didn’t know what to say. She stood up, told me her assistant would drop off a batch of résumés, and left.

“Congratulations,” she said from the hallway, with no enthusiasm whatsoever. “Congratulations, Director.”

“Thank you.”

We had one last exchange of awkward smiles before she disappeared.

On my screen, the nothing email was still staring at me. I changed the word to noting and sent it on its way.

Next: The Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com.

Free Fiction: The Promotion Minisode #2

As announced last week, The Promotion: A Novella is now available for sale from Amazon as an e-book, and the print version should be up very soon (i.e., in the next few days). I’m also releasing sections of the book in a series of minisodes. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #1In Which the Narrator Takes a Break from Biglaw and Navigates the Depths of His Wife’s Passion

Today’s Entry: Minisode #2: In Which the Annihilation of the Narrator’s Soul Leads to a Stunning Development

It turned out that my wife had not been the first to fall for the streaks idea. Streaks did not exist in nature. You couldn’t count on runs of ups and downs. You had to bet each hand as if it were the only one you were going to bet that day, make your decisions on sound mathematical principles, win or lose the hand, and start the next one with the same clinical detachment.

I showed her the article. But did that stop her? No! Of course not! In fact the opposite occurred. She took it as a good sign: all her losses—the years and years of losses—had “pre-confirmed” her new theory.

There are no streaks,” she said in a mystified voice.

“It’s okay, honey.”

But she was already getting her things ready. There was a casino in West Virginia she could get to in an hour and six minutes. “No streaks!” she called over her shoulder. “My scheme still works—I just have to do the opposite of what I was doing before!”

Passion, my friends!

Had I overcome my own weakness for passion in others I might have stopped her. But I didn’t, and when she came home broke—actually broker than broke, as she left in our car and returned by bus—she announced that she was leaving me. She denied it had anything to do with gambling, but I knew better. I knew the role that passion had played. I had doubted hers for a moment, and she could not bear to be near me after that had occurred. At the beginning I had chosen her for her passion. In the end she chose her passion over me.

As I was absorbing the blow of this loss, or maybe because I was still suffering from it, a strange thing happened at work.

I had just drafted a memo for a client. In the cover email, I reminded the client of what she had requested and briefly summarized the key issues. Then I wrote that there were three other things worth noting, followed by a bulleted list.

Something about the email seemed funny. I spent a few moments looking at it, trying to puzzle it out, until it hit me. I had not written that there were three other things worth noting. I had written that there were three other things worth nothing.

I shook my head, chuckling at how close I had come to sending an email to a client with such an embarrassing typo. What a fantastic mistake! I prepared to tell the story:

There were four words in a row with a th in them, and I guess I was on a roll. So instead of pointing out to the client that there were “three other things worth noting,” I said there were “three other things worth nothing…”

I could hardly wait to get home to share this with my wife…except of course she was gone and my house would be empty. But I couldn’t keep this to myself! A colleague, maybe? But when? How? I never socialized with anyone at work. When would I get the chance to tell the story? At the next litigation lunch, scheduled for—I checked the calendar—two weeks from Wednesday?

I looked at the sentence again. Worth nothing? Ha—what if that were true?

But I was being paid to write these things. So it was demonstrably untrue.

Wasn’t it?

I closed the blinds behind me as if I were undertaking some kind of illicit project and forced myself to consider the bullet points, one by one.

The first point was this:

This is a draft and may change as circumstances warrant.

A hedging strategy. An absence of commitment. A loophole. What was that worth to the client? It was probably worth nothing! The attachment itself said DRAFT on every page.

Surely the second point would be better:

I would be happy to make changes based on your feedback.

I swallowed hard. This, too, said nothing of consequence. This was being sent to the client! She was paying for this; if she didn’t like it, she would request changes and I would make them. That’s how this worked. And whether I was happy to make the changes was entirely irrelevant. Even if I wasn’t happy—let’s say being asked to make changes made me very angry—it would not change the underlying dynamic.

I was feeling uneasy. My entire career was based on emails like this one. It was all I did.

With mounting anxiety I reviewed the third item:

I’ll be out of pocket for a few hours but will be back online tonight.

This was the worst of all! This one was unquestionably worth nothing! The memo was not due any time soon. My short-term whereabouts simply did not matter. I was demonstrating some kind of commitment to responsiveness—which, again, did not matter. She could expect it, or not, and I would deliver it, or not. My statement was not worth noting. It was in fact worth nothing.

As I sat there stunned—at that very moment—our office manager appeared in the door to offer me the promotion.

Next: The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com.