Disclaimer, I received a review copy of this book at the author’s expense. Despite this fact, my promise to both you the reader and him as the doting author is that I will remain as impartial as possible in giving my opinion on his latest work. That being said, enjoy!
Some books seem to be made to collect dust sitting on display on their owner’s bookshelves as intellectual trophies. Currently on the shelf behind me are several casebooks from law school, some writing guides, an already-outdated copy of the Bluebook (shudder), and a very ornately bound copy of “the US Constitution and other writings” once given to me as a gift. I can assure you that these books have all been opened less times than they have been moved, having followed me from my law school apartment, to my second apartment, and finally to my current home. While these books would be impressive to the average person, should one ever happen to walk through my basement lai- er, I mean, “home office,” they haven’t provided much utility to me past their original use of assisting me in passing law school.
In releasing his second book, Stop Putting out Fires: Building a More Efficient and Profitable Law Practice, Jeremy Richter eschews the standard goals for legal writing, or indeed for writing to lawyers as an audience in general. He says as much in his introduction when he offers a description of his book as a “devotional” of sorts, for lawyers. Rather than sitting on a bookshelf, collecting dust, Richter hopes to see copies of his book dog-eared from use, and sitting among stacks of papers on a lawyer’s desk, within reach during a brief moment of respite where its owner may decide to indulge in a vignette which is the defining style of its sections.
Stop Putting out Fires is organized into three parts, with the last and larger of the three making up roughly half of its page count. The first part is focused on Client Management, and the main theme that Richter seeks to drive home is the importance of trust between an attorney and his or her client. He regularly refers to “trust equity” a term that I had not been previously aware of, but which makes perfect sense from the context in which it is used. All of his advice, from working to anticipate client needs and quickly respond to them, to setting reasonable expectations from the outset of a client relationship, hinges on trust as its main form of currency, and a return to relationships between clients and their attorneys based on earned trust is a key part of his message in the first section.
For some of the articles, particularly in the early part of Stop Putting out Fires, the reader may get the false impression that it is mere recitation of common-sense or empty platitudes from which nothing of substance can be discerned. However, in each easily-digestible segment, Richter brings the reader around to viewing the advice he offers with new eyes, by either sharing a story in which someone mis-handled a situation and thereby revealed a fundamental flaw, or by bringing the reader to view an older adage through a new lens, and therefore see it in a novel way for the first time.
The second part of the book relates to Case Management, and as an insurance defense lawyer, Richter certainly has a particular perspective from which he draws his observations and analysis. He challenges the reader to refuse to accept convention for its own sake, but also to engage with the routine, required, “boring” work that is often necessary as the basis for putting on a convincing case. With regard to trial practice, Richter focuses on the value of storytelling. The concept certainly resonated with me as my clinical professor in law school had written much about the persuasive value of telling a compelling story, and shared her thoughts on that subject with her students early and often. Richter, without knowing her, seems to agree with my professor that, regardless of one’s natural disposition, being a good trial lawyer involves being engaging, adhering to a strong theme, and tailoring your presentation style to the facts of the case.
The final and most voluminous part of Stop Putting out Fires relates to general Practice Management. Richter’s form opens up in this section, and his most widely applicable advice comes from the pieces contained in it as well. I found myself reading the individual articles, interviews, and war stories and immediately imagining colleagues, friends, and family that could benefit from reading what I had just read. I wish I could have “Apologize when you act like a jerk” and the accompanying analysis stapled to the forehead of every lawyer, judge, and paralegal in town. Whether you are a pre-law student, or moving into a concurrent decade of practicing law, chances are that you will find something in Stop Putting out Fires that will make it worthwhile to have within arm’s reach.
In my opinion, Stop Putting out Fires reaches a crescendo in the latter part of the third section when Richter offers thoughts on finding meaning in life, whether that is within or without one’s career, and it is in this part of his book that the lessons contained therein start to reveal their real-world application outside of ‘just’ the practice of law.
Simply put Stop Putting out Fires is a worthy addition to an attorney’s desktop, and would make an excellent gift for the lawyer and law-adjacent person in your life. If for some reason you are on the fence as to whether or not you should get it, please allow me to add my voice to the cacophony of voices recommending that you stop putting out fires, and start working to put your legal career on the path you want it to be on.
If you are interested in getting a copy of Stop Putting out Fires for yourself or as a gift, you can find it through the author’s twitter account @richterjw, or simply follow the link below to find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stop-Putting-Out-Fires-Profitable/dp/1733665501