On Updating A Book For The Passage Of Time And Political Correctness – Above the Law

The publisher of The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Practicing Law (affiliate link) — the ABA — has been leaning on me for years to write an updated edition of the book.  The first edition came out in 2006; if you release an updated edition, you both keep the book current and encourage more purchases.  The publisher wanted a new edition.


I finally relented.  (I recorded a podcast to announce the update a little while back.  You can listen here, if you’re curious.)


The second edition has a new “Foreword” by none other than David Lat.  You know he can write.  The Foreword alone is worth the price of the book! 


The book also has a new “Afterword” by none other than me.  I tell the reader about things that I’ve learned since the ABA originally released the book.  Buy the book anyway.


But that’s not the point of this post.  The interesting thing was what happened to the text of the book during the updating process.  The ABA asked three lawyer-editors to read the original text and correct anything that I wrote in 2006 that would no longer be current — or politically correct — today.


We corrected some obvious anachronisms — words or concepts that have lost their meaning since 2006.  Thus, “BlackBerry” — a contraption that dominated the market in 2006, but is unheard of today — came out of the book.   We replaced all of the 2006 references to “BlackBerries” with updated references to “iPhones,” which were first released in 2007.  (Who knows what word we’ll use in 2032, heaven help me, when we release the third edition of the book?)


We also eliminated references to “libraries,” whatever they were.  Instead, we talk about “doing research,” to include the current concept of sitting alone at your computer.


We found a few historical references that the editors believe will no longer resonate with the average reader.  Where I originally mentioned “Robert Bork” without explanation, we now noted that his was a failed nomination to the Supreme Court.  The editors feared that readers might not otherwise recognize the name.  We also explained the context for Brendan Sullivan‘s words, “I am not a potted plant.”  The editors thought that the Oliver North hearings are fading into history and require an explanation today that they did not in 2006.  We struck “Saddam Hussein” as a reference to a notorious bad guy, because the renown of his evil may not withstand the passage of time.  Instead, it’s “Vlad the Impaler,” whose renown also has not withstood the passage of time, but at least he sounds really mean.  And so on.


We also fixed matters of political correctness, and a couple of those startled me.  I am not permitted in the year 2019, for example, to say that a decent introduction should be “sexy.”  I’m not at all sure about that prohibition, but the ABA seemed happy with “enticing” as a substitute.


We could not say that a matter was “black and white.”  That phrase seems innocuous to me — it means “contrasting” rather than “some racist thing” — but I’m just the author, so I relented and removed the phrase.


This is not to say that all of the changes were wrong.  We changed “off the reservation” to “off the rails.”  That’s plainly correct.  I used the former phrase only because I hadn’t thought about its origins when I wrote the words in 2006.   I should not have used the phrase in 2006, and I will not use it today.  (This reminded me of a time, in 1983, when an appellate judge said at a private meeting that something was, “Nobody’s cotton-pickin’ business.”  The one African-American judge in the room gave the speaker an earful.  The earful was well-deserved, and I suspect the judge never used the phrase again.  I certainly haven’t.)


In any event, buy The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (Second Edition)!


As you read it, you’ll be keenly aware of something very important:  You understand all of the historical references, and the book is completely politically correct.

Mark Herrmann spent 17 years as a partner at a leading international law firm and is now deputy general counsel at a large international company. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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