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Rodent Tales : Yup, he's a lawyer. And he gnaws at a profession that eats its young.

June 23, 1995|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We meet for the first time at Starbucks in Santa Monica, The Rodent and I. He's easy to spot in the Saturday morning coffee crowd. He's the one in the blue serge suit, carrying a briefcase.

A briefcase in which is hidden a large rubber rat's head.

The Rodent extends his hand. He is tall--six feet plus--and young, 30-ish. An open, friendly face belies his reputation as lawyerdom's leading subversive.

For five years, starting as a young associate in the now-defunct L.A. office of law giant Baker & McKenzie, The Rodent has avoided the trap while taking pokes at his profession, specifically its big cheeses, in a humor column for legal publications and a monthly (usually) newsletter. Created on his home computer, The Rodent newsletter finds its way (sometimes in plain wrapper) to attorneys coast to coast.

Now there's the book, "Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent's Guide to Lawyers," coming in early July from Pocket Books.

This first book and the newsletter are satires on a profession that in The Rodent's view has lost sight of its mission in pursuit of big bucks.

In the book, The Rodent divulges "everything you ever wanted to know about the legal profession but didn't want to be charged $250 an hour to find out."

Did you know, for example, that the path to partnership in The Firm (read: any major law firm U.S.A.) starts in the cradle? "Baby barristers are recognizable from the moment of birth," when they demand cash up front in lieu of mother's milk. Later, they pick as best friends the kids who want to grow up to be ambulance drivers.

Even a born barrister must get into law school, so "The Rodent's Guide to Lawyers" suggests a resume padded with a Nobel, a Pulitzer and a Wimbledon championship or two, as law schools rarely check. Unreachable celebs make good personal references. The Rodent suggests Salman Rushdie, Roman Polanski and Jimmy Hoffa.

There's inside information on "Infesting the Firm" (getting a job) and on life inside "the Maze." One tip: Real lawyers don't fly coach.

Scattered throughout The Rodent's guide are titillating Rodent Tales--all true, he swears. Like this one:

A senior partner at a major New York firm was to address the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, but forgot about it until the Friday night before the Monday event. Planning a beach weekend, he made a hapless associate scrap his weekend plans to write a suitable speech. On Monday, the speech, neatly bound, was on the partner's desk.

Before his audience of 500, the partner read the speech for the first time, his voice rising to a crescendo as he told of his vision of the law's role in helping to write a peaceful, prosperous new chapter in world history. "To accomplish this," he read, "I will suggest that we. . . ."

The partner turned the page, eager to see what he had to say. There he read, "Improvise, you son of a bitch."

That's The Rodent's kind of associate. While an associate at Baker & McKenzie in 1990, he and a colleague lampooned The Firm in an unauthorized in-house newsletter protesting things such as a restrictive "flexible benefits" health plan.

When the firm took away secretaries' paid parking, The Rodent heralded "flexible parking benefits." About then, he says, "They tried to exterminate The Rodent," but he eluded them with the help of the managing partner's secretary.

Ultimately, he says, "They kindly asked me to work elsewhere." He swears it was due to a business downturn. His former partner in mischief moved on and now practices in Santa Monica.

*

By this time, The Rodent was writing the syndicated column "A Word from The Rodent," which runs in 20 legal publications, and the newsletter, which the pair had been financing out of pocket, was gaining a loyal following of the legally disillusioned. With subscription rates of $18 a year for associates, $16 for the disbarred and $300 plus postage and handling for power partners, The Rodent is actually in the black.

As for that $300 rate . . . that was just a joke, but "two suckers actually fell for that," The Rodent says. He made their subscriptions lifetime.

The Rodent has divulged his identity to only a handful of people, including his mother, who, he mentions, is so proud that he's written a book--if only she could tell someone.

Without giving the gag away, we will tell you that the Clark Kent of the legal world grew up in Los Angeles, went to a Northern California law school and is now a free-lance lawyer here. That's it. After all, The Rodent doesn't swelter under that rat's head for nothing.

"The Rodent's Guide to Lawyers" grew out of the column and the newsletter, which has a paid circulation of 1,000 and, he estimates, a readership of 10 times that. Subscribers delight in reading about such annual events as the "Lawyer Games," with competition in synchronized and freestyle billing, and in the bogus ads, one of which touted a "rent-a-client" service for those wanting to impress.

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