Five Signs You've Become an Old Codger Lawyer

C. Hank Peters Big Legal Brain, Columns, Lawyer 17 Comments


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.

Use of Latin Phrases as If they Mean Something

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.

Serving Papers by Facsimile and U.S. Mail, Postage Prepaid

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.

Consulting the Urban Dictionary Before Talking to Associates

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 ignored 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.

Recalling Scenes from LA Law


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.

Consulting ALR 3rd and Corpus Juris Secundum

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.”

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  • Guano Dubango

    Now that I have been in practice for 5 years, I may qualify, as there are some young bucks at the firm that look at me as if I am not one of them.

    In reality, I am also an associate, though not a junior associate. It will not be too long before I too will be considered a codger. But by then, I hope to secure a female law bride and return to my homeland to raise my issue.

  • Evil Lawyer

    And before “Facsimile” it was “sent Via telefacsimile.”

    • farside268

      I still come across notes that describe phone calls as “telephonic conferences.”

      • Guano Dubango

        Dude, this lets you bill more for it. It sounds more impressive.

  • Evil Lawyer

    Still worse: someone who knows that “CC” meant carbon copy. But even so, that guy with the big gut in the jacuzzi looks like he is still employed.

  • Guano Dubango

    This man may very well likely look appealing to our own “Michelle Beth” and “Alma Federer”, who in all likelihood have never seen a man’s body up close (other than in photographs).

    Have at it, ladies!

  • Kathy Bakes

    This is too funny. A great read!

  • Mitch Jackson

    After 25 years of practice, I’m going to have to admit that 4 out of 5 sound just like me :-) But I really like what I do and get good results for my clients so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?

  • Jen

    I work out of Rochester, NY, which has a very aged legal population. This post is SPOT ON! That serving via fax and mail is basically standard practice up here. I am a young attorney and used to work with a guy who used that “name at the top of the letterhead” line all the time. Until just now I had no idea it was an LA Law reference.

  • bob

    bitter lawyer and lawyerlist ought combine so that all routine emails
    start with bitter and followed by lawyerlist,,,, so that with the
    start of fun stuff no one minds reading the drudge stuff, and would
    save time of reader who now has to read lawyerlist page and then
    click to go to bitter, and, esp if lawyerlist goes out of businesss or
    goes into brain dead fee system rather than sharing which would
    eliminate the link to bitter which is a reminder,,,,,, if bitter has
    a mail list they ought add me to it

  • Dave Lowe

    I am 76 and have been practicing law for 49 year. The use of Latin legal phrases is not a sign of being an “old codger” nearly as much as using the term “old codger” is a sure sign the user’s vocabulary is very out of date. I would have liked to use the Latin term lingua franca but I did not want to embarrass the author. Lawyers who write blogs about the law should either know and use Latin legal phrases when appropriate or give up writing and go back to taking depositions. Erudition has nothing to do with age.


    • Quadoz

      I don’t know if it should be respected or scrutinized. Being an attorney is great in a way. As long as your mind is strong, you can practice. In my police job, guys with more than 25 years on are questioned. ‘What the hell are you clinging to??’ Practicing law for 49 years makes me ask the same question. However, I am just a rookie lawyer. It’s not really my place to ask that question, yet.

      City Cop by Midnight, Rookie Lawyer by Day

    • Guano Dubango

      Congratulations to this old dude. He must have fathered a lot of issue and that is why he is still working–to pay the tuition and the ex wives. Here is one the old dude can appreciate:

      What do women and milk cartons have in common? You gotta open the flaps to get to the good stuff.

      • Michelle Beth

        VERY FUNNY !!!

        Your stupid jokes are ad nauseam.
        This is a sign you are non compos mentis and you have become addicted to coitus interruptus with water buffaloes.

        • Guano Dubango

          1000 pardons my wee “Michelle Beth” but I am looking for a bona fide legal breeder, not an aging transvestite with a 5:00 p.m. shadow. If you do not appreciate my brand of humour, then may honourably I suggest that you modify your own bitter attitude. With this in mind, here is a tad of non-legal humour that reminds me of some of the women I am trying to secure:

          Q: What is the smallest hotel in the world?
          A: A woman’s va-jay-jay, because you have to leave the bags outside.

  • Solo Steve

    Showing that I, too, must be an Old Codger, I must note that the lawyer played by Corbin Bernson on LA Law was Arnold (Arnie) Becker, not Beckman.

  • r. dernister

    Codger-schmodger. After doing this for 41 years all I care about is winning and getting paid. I still don’t get the television references because (true story) until about four months ago I never even had a television. I turned it on once about a week ago, but I had work to do so I turned it off.