Derek’s up for partner at Nibble & Kuhn just as that most proper of Boston law firms comically tries to 'rebrand' itself for the Google era. Pompous and arbitrary, the ruling junta of partners saddles him with a high visibility lawsuit just weeks before trial. The diligent young attorney arranges things so that Maria Parma, a new associate in the firm for whom he’s fallen hard, also gets named to the case. Maria, in turn, can't keep her hands off Derek, but it's complicated because she's engaged to someone else.
As Derek prepares his case on behalf of seven young victims of an industrial polluter, his anxieties about his career and his torments over Maria's mixed messages only increase. Have his eccentric WASP superiors handed him a 'toxic' case to ruin his chances of becoming a partner? How can he get his opponents to settle – an outcome the presiding judge all but demands - unless his unorthodox 'expert witnesses' perform with enough gravitas to match that of the other side with its Harvard Medical School scientist? Will Nibble & Kuhn survive the partners’ spectacularly bad business judgment? Does it even matter to Derek, given that his looming fiasco of a trial and indiscretions with Maria seem set to sink any chance he may have had at partnership?
Ultimately, Derek sets in motion a line of inquiry that spins events entirely out of the control of the judge, the jury, and any and all attorneys.
David Schmahmann tells a wonderful story, and he tells it brilliantly. I expect great success for Nibble & Kuhn, and won’t even be jealous if it arrives. Great book!
Lawyers offer an abundance of literary opportunities and John Grisham, a lawyer himself, is proof of that, but now comes David Schmahmann’s Nibble & Kuhn. Schmahmann is also a practicing lawyer and also an accomplished writer of fiction. For pure entertainment, this novel tells the story of an unraveling law firm, an unwinnable case, and an unworkable love. At the center is Derek Dover who is up for partner at Nibble & Kuhn at precisely the time the Boston law firm decides to “rebrand” itself for the Google era. The partners, pompous and arbitrary, hand him a high visibility case just weeks before trial and, Derek, who has fallen hard for Maria Parma, a new associate, must work with her and the handicap that she’s engaged to someone else. Therein are all the elements of disaster and the fun is watching everything unravel.
Reading Nibble & Kuhn is like watching a man drive toward a cliff, riveting drama that keeps you turning the pages and wondering how it could possibly end well, with a twist you couldn’t possibly predict. I could not put it down. The characters and settings are so real and familiar you feel as though you are a member of the law firm. David Schmahmann has captured the personalities and idiosyncracies of large corporate law firms brilliantly.
Mr. Schmahmann writes with polished perception and dark humor. His fictitious Boston law firm, Nibble & Kuhn, rings true to life in all its irony. Nibble & Kuhn is not a book you’ll snack on. It’s a tasty literary meal that improves with each turn of the page..
Schmahmann (Empire Settings, 2001) takes a sardonic look at the law and justice in this smoothly told love story….
I enjoyed this book because it is reminiscent of early John Grisham, when his characters were still fresh, and his plots original. I also appreciate the story’s lack of violence. The main character, an attorney at a staid old law firm under management nouveau, is a striver, hoping to make partner. But, like most of the lawyers I know personally, he is decent, realistic, and likeable. His love interest, also an attorney, is an independent woman, interesting, bright, and adorable. The bad guys are a little over the top, but they do mimic the ‘success at all costs’ mentality and lack of judgment recently demonstrated by a few of our larger legal and financial conglomerates. The plot moves right along without any padding, the dialogue is crisp, and the dialogue is crisp, and the author is professional. This is a neat and entertaining novel.
Hub lawyers are reading between the lines of “Nibble & Kuhn,” a new novel by David Schmahmann, to see if they recognize any of the characters. This legal thriller/love story takes place at a Boston law firm that’s trying to rebrand itself in a tough economy. When a young attorney up for partnership is handed a controversial contamination case, he discovers his future (and his romance with a sexy colleague) may both hinge on winning a case that’s seemingly unwinnable. Schmahmann, a former Boston attorney, knows whereof he writes.
Nibble & Kuhn” by David Schmahmann is a satirical look at corporate law firms replete with arrogant partners, overworked associates and trumped up lawsuits. No wonder there are so many nasty lawyer jokes around! It is a good page turner that evokes both laughter and anger.
There is nothing predictable about Nibble & Kuhn. David Schmahmann writes an intelligent story that picks up speed as you read and by the end you really can't put it down… As the story unravels, and snowballs to its superb ending, Schmahmann lets the readers get an inside glimpse of the inner workings of a large corporate law firm. Nibble & Kuhn is written with such clarity and brilliance, that whether you work at law firm or not, you will appreciate [its] subtleties…
It’s a story about … a disillusioned Boston lawyer and two things: the girl he can't have, and the impossible case that is dropped into his lap. Nibble & Kuhn is not a legal thriller, and it's not a romance. It's a short, fast novel good for hot summer nights ….
Nibble & Kuhn by David Schmahmann … is … concerned with the impact human enterprise has on the quality of human life. Schmahmann’s skewering of law firm life is wickedly funny, but his main character, Derek, struck me as a whole person, who doesn’t always act in predictable ways, and who manages to be both irritating and endearing, just like most real people.
It’s easy with satire to lapse into caricatures, but I found myself empathizing with Derek and definitely wanting to know how the hopeless case he is stuck with will turn out. The romance in the novel is unbelievable, but it’s meant to be - Derek is dumbstruck when he finds out who he’s fallen in love with as well. But it’s not simply a satire with a romance, it’s also a story that examines human resilience and the tension between motives and actions when getting ahead might be at odds with getting things right.
It is a shock to see what happens [at the end of Nibble & Kuhn]. How many times do you get to read a great novel that has a wonderful storyline and just the right amount of romance?
This is a very unique and very good book. The author, David Schmahmann, is the award winning author of “Empire Settings.” Schmahmann has a very interesting writing style and the book is fascinating to read. The title of the book, “Nibble & Kuhn,” is the name of the firm that the characters work at; needless to say there are quite a few jokes about the firm name. Derek Dover, the main character, is a new lawyer in a corporate law firm. The story is almost monotonous when you read each detail of the lawyers’ work lives, but each detail is well crafted and somewhat humorous, each interaction between the co-workers serves a purpose and further develops each character.
He perfectly captures the daily routine of lawyers. Derek Dover, as a lawyer is good, but doesn’t take any risks and has recently acquired a difficult case from another incompetent lawyer. The case has been basically given up on by the firm, but if Dover does not win the case, he will likely lose his job. The firm makes it very difficult for him to win the case, they do not allow him to spend any more money or find new expert witnesses. Things get even more complicated with two inter-office romances between Dover and two other women. Dover has to constantly defend his position at the firm and figure out his relationships. Maria, one of his love interests, is a fascinating character and her home life is much different than what you would expect. You will wonder how Dover will win the case and get the girl because it seems like two impossible tasks.
Schmahmann creates a very real world with this book, and the characters capture your interest and attention. This is a really good book, and the author is a very intelligent writer. I think anyone would enjoy this book, men and women alike. It has a little bit of everything - drama, humour and romance - and is overall a great book. The best thing about this book is the characters that are relatable and very real. “Nibble & Kuhn” is a definite must-read.
[W]e're not actually going to review David Schmahmann's new book, Nibble & Kuhn … Instead, we're just going to steal Schmahmann's good lines … Mind you, we don't think any of this stuff is funny. To the contrary: It's insulting to say these things about law firms and libelous to say them about judges. We just wanted to share, so that you could, er, join our outrage. First, Schmahmann has this to say about Nibble & Kuhn:
"I did not know then that for firms like Nibble, courtrooms are mythic and abstract places. Nibble lawyers do not try cases. Nibble lawyers threaten to try cases, and then they settle."
"What matters at the firm really isn't how good a lawyer you are, though I suppose it does count for something, nor how hard you work. Rather, the determinant of success at Nibble, which means, as it does everywhere, money and power, is whether you have your own clients."
And about judges:
"Margaret Kelly is leaving to become, God help the poor people of Massachusetts, a judge. The only real beneficiaries of this … are the lawyers at Nibble & Kuhn. Conflict of interest rules require that we never appear before her in court."
"I suppose …that if you aren't a lawyer and know very little about the system, Margaret may seem to be someone you would go to with a [legal problem]. I mean, if lawyering skills were somehow a function of how many panels you sit on and how many charities you support, Margaret would be at the front of the line."
As we said, we're not amused; we're outraged.
David Schmahmann has written an entertaining story of an industrious lawyer, Derek Dover, who gets the "toxic" case of 7 children injured by industrial waste. The law firm, in the mean time, is busy trying to change it's image as well as it's name, in order to be more modern and catchy. Derek asks that his lover, Maria Parma, be assigned to assist him in preparation for the case, which may get him to the position of partner. One of the many problems in their relationship is that Maria is engaged, and not to Derek.
Things get pretty wacky as the firm moves to new offices, and some of the situations are laugh out loud funny. (I have worked in some of the same situations) Derek and Maria try to keep their affair a secret, but have trouble being subtle.
Problems with the move, problems with witnesses, and problems with romance, all blend to make a pretty good story.
The characters were likable, and the humor was biting, and though the ending was a little familiar, I enjoyed the story.
I liked Nibble & Kuhn. Not least for the name… There's just something about a law firm with the name of "Nibble"… *grin* Brings to mind that one joke (yeah, only one) about lawyers and the bottom of the sea…
Anyway. Never mind the bad lawyer jokes. Derek is a good guy. He's pretty smart, works hard, bills as he should… As he's coming up for partnership though, some things happen… He falls for Maria, and he gets assigned a huge case--taking over for an elevated-to-judgeship lawyer at his firm. Now, Maria. Maria is more than she seems. She's a good girl, who happens to fall for a not-quite-family-approved boy. Of course, they can hardly approve of Derek if they don't even know that he exists, right?
Nibble & Kuhn is part emotional drama, part comedy, and part satire. All told in a crisp, clean narrative by author David Schmahmann. You'll shake your head at some of the goings on at the moving-on-up law firm, wince at Derek's case, and laugh out loud at the re-branding of Nibble & Kuhn. All while rooting for Derek and Maria. Not a bad way to while away a fall evening at all…
Do real private detectives read detective novels? Do police officers read crime fiction? I wonder because, as a practicing attorney, I don’t usually read novels dealing with lawyers. Even when written by attorneys, story-telling seems to require shortcuts. Perhaps unnoticed by the average reader, those shortcuts can leave me incredulous, even infuriated. Although David Schmahmann’s Nibble & Kuhn also takes a few shortcuts, it doesn’t raise my ire as much because it’s clearly an irony-tinged look inside a large law firm.
While John Grisham’s novels are the equivalent of a big studio, blockbuster thriller, Nibble & Kuhn is more akin to an indie, light romantic comedy. It is told by Derek Dover, who is up for partnership in the Boston law firm Nibble & Kuhn. Reminiscent of Jonathan Harr’s nonfiction work, A Civil Action, one of the managing partners assigns him a lawsuit against a huge corporation for allegedly polluting a neighborhood swimming hole and causing cancer in seven children. Previously handled by a partner who is becoming a judge, Dover quickly learns the thousands and thousands of dollars in time and expenses invested in the case are nearly useless.
Personal and professional dilemmas form another storyline — Dover’s relationship with Maria Parma, a new associate in the firm. Although Parma tells Dover she is engaged to someone in Spain, he arranges for her to be assigned to assist with the case. While the backstory of her engagement is a stretch, the romance and the issues it creates have a real world touch. All this takes place as the law firm is “rebranding” itself (with the unfortunate name “Nibbles’) and completing an extravagant office building. This, of course, comes amidst a crumbling economy that leads many law firms to lay off staff and attorneys.
The book has other authentic rings. Dover is not a crusader, just a young litigation attorney who wants to do good and professional work. Yet as Schmahmann, himself a lawyer, points out, for many large metropolitan law firms, “courtrooms are mythic and abstract places. Nibble lawyers do not try cases. Nibble lawyers threaten to try cases, and then settle.” Dover can’t grasp why he’s been saddled with an important case that seemingly can’t be won — or settled. And although perhaps a bit stereotyped, the managing partners are idiosyncratic, haughty and increasingly distant from the regular practice of law, treating the firm more as “a money making machine with practicing law as a pretext.” Day-to-day authority tends to fall to non-lawyer administrators and the firm often seems run via autocratic memos.
Where Nibble & Kuhn lacks some authenticity is in and around the courtroom. For example, it is inconceivable a judge would learn at a Friday hearing, his first in a case, that he’s been assigned a month-long “toxic tort” trial that will begin Monday. Only in novels could the lawyers in such a case pick a jury and make opening statements in roughly two and a half hours.
Why does story-telling take precedence? As Dover observes, “Lawsuits, despite what one might see on television, aren’t that interesting.” That is especially true of pretrial conferences and jury selection. Still, the most important courtroom scene is the most unbelievable — and intentionally so. Not only is it essential to the novel’s heart and soul, you never see coming and it can’t help but prompt a huge grin, if not outright laughter.
Nibble & Kuhn won’t cause me to abandon my hesitancy to read legal novels. Yet at least Schmahmann lets us know his tongue is often firmly in cheek so that when he diverges from actual practice even those of us who notice can still chuckle at his look at litigation and law firm life.
`Derek Dover is fast approaching a career crossroad all too familiar to young attorneys and accountants everywhere. In Derek’s particular case, Boston law firm Nibble & Kuhn is considering him for promotion to partner– and, as is usually the case, only three things can happen. He will be made partner; he will not be made partner and will have to resign himself to years of grunt-work for those who do reach that level; or he will be asked to leave the firm.
Derek, until recently, believed that his chances of being the one chosen to join the firm’s inner circle were pretty good. But things change, and he is finding out just how quickly that can happen. Derek has mixed emotions about the make-or-break case he suddenly inherits, one in which he is to represent seven young boys who claim to have gotten cancer from the industrial polluter located near their neighborhood swimming hole. He knows the case is inherently weak, and he is astonished at the poor preparation done by the partner who handled the case prior to dumping it in his lap, but he knows that winning the case is vital to the future of Nibble & Kuhn. He also knows that winning this case will almost certainly land him the partnership he wants so badly.
And then there is Maria Parma, one of Nibble & Kuhn’s newest and lowest ranking associates, with whom Derek is madly in love. The good news is that Maria is so in love with Derek that she can barely keep her hands off him even in the office. The bad news is that she is engaged to someone she has known all her life and cannot even imagine how she might break off that engagement without devastating the two families.
Nibble & Kuhn is a lighthearted look at a law firm gone mad. Despite the failings of the firm’s overall leadership and the despicable nature of the man at the very top, David Schmahmann finds enough humor in Derek Dover’s situation to make this one fun to read. His story is, of course, absurd. Or is it? Is justice, as dispensed by the American judicial system, really nothing more than a role of the dice? Is it all a matter of which side can place the highest number of gullible jurors in the jury box? O.J. Simpson, anyone?
Despite its serious (and disturbing) message, Nibble & Kuhn is filled with smile-out-loud moments as Derek and Maria struggle with their own relationship while trying not to look like total incompetents in front of a judge who recognizes the absurdity of the case they are representing in his courtroom. I think readers of Nibble & Kuhn will care about what happens to Derek and Maria and that they will be pleased with the book’s satisfying, if somewhat predictable, ending.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Academy Chicago Publishers. I jumped at a chance to review this book as it is a satire of the law. Boy was it very realistic. I could identify with a great deal that went on in this book.
Derek Dover is an associate at the venerable law firm Nibble & Kuhn. Well this year he is up for partner. Due to the economy and such, the firm is trying to rebrand itself. So, they rent bigger and more spacious digs. The only problem is that the work load isn’t there. One of the partners is leaving the firm to become a judge. Well, she took on a case that is turning out to be somewhat of an albatross around the firm’s neck. In an effort to draw clientele, the firm took on a plaintiff’s case. There are seven children who have developed cancer as a result of industrial polluters. A couple of months before this trial, Derek gets handed the case. Basically the firm wants to get rid of the case, unfortunately Derek can’t get his clients to settle so he has to try the case. More unfortunate is that the managing partner doesn’t want to spend any more money for expert reports and the like for trial. To add to this mess, Derek is in love with an associate named Maria Parma. And his distraction may very well cost him a partnership.
Anyway, the trial comes and it is the comedy of errors. I won’t tell you the outcome. But let me tell you it is worth the read. Derek has a moment of inspiration during the trial. It’s pretty funny actually.
In the end Derek decides to turn down the partnership and strike out on his own with a few of his friends that opened a small firm.
Marcia, at the Printed Page, reviewed this book and thought that the book moved too slow. Obviously I didn’t feel that way. In reality this is how cases are tried. It is a very laborious process; and it moves slowly by design. Boy, the experts Derek end up with made me laugh so hard. In complex cases, the case turns on the “battle of the experts” so you have to choose carefully. If you don’t, you’re opponent will tear your guy to shreds.
What I liked most about the book was the realistic portrayal of large law firms. Contrary to popular myth, not every attorney tries cases. In fact large firm associates get into court much, much later than attorneys at smaller firms. For instance, I started out working for a small firm of 4 attorneys. I went to court on my own two weeks after I started. One of my former roommates works for a large firm; we’ve been out since 2005, and she’s never done a deposition.
So if you are interested in seeing a realistic portrayal of the law, read this.
Q: NIBBLE & KUHN does a number on the law and lawyers. It’s clearly written by an insider. How long have you been a lawyer? What is your practice like?
A: I’ve been a lawyer for over thirty years. I started out at a firm in New York and then I came to Boston and until recently was a partner in the law firm founded by Judge Louis Brandeis. I was a trial lawyer there, and I did try more cases than the hapless “trial lawyers” at Nibble.
Q: Certainly the puffed up corporate firm of NIBBLE & KUHN provides a lot of comic material. How is N&K different from and similar to many of the outfits you’ve worked for? And worked with?
A: All law firms have their moments, and certainly mine did. And lawyers are easy targets for humor because they’re sort of know-it-alls and also, in my experience, usually terrible businessmen. There’s also something about being a lawyer that almost requires a particular kind self promotion. In addition, of course, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of lawyers who’d honestly admit that personal injury lawsuits, the kind of lawsuit at the center of this novel, are far more about enriching lawyers than about getting justice for anyone. The guy in the expensive suit will tell you – hell, he’ll tell anyone who’s prepared to listen – that it’s about justice, and about the redress of injury, but it’s just not. It’s about money. Making money. Making lots of money by inventorying other peoples’ misfortunes and turning them into cash, a giant slice of which goes to the lawyers (but of course.) And to get there, to the moment money actually changes hands, well I don’t think the average person has a clue how inefficient, wasteful, arrogant and arbitrary the process happens to be.
And yet. And yet. We need lawyers. I don’t have to go into why.
Q: NIBBLE & KUHN is such a different book from your award-winning first novel EMPIRE SETTINGS, which dealt with life in apartheid and post apartheid South Africa. What “creative adjustments” did you make? As a writer did you “hear” the novels differently as you wrote them?
A: They’re both from parts of my life. In a way I suppose my outsider’s take on the law derives in part from the fact that I am an outsider. Deep down I’m a South African still, though I’ve lived in America for almost all of my life. Empire Settings was set in part in South Africa, and in the era I lived there, and I tried to recreate a time and a place that is quite gone, and that evokes very mixed feelings in me. I mean, youth can be lovely, and mine was lovely, and so can first love, and yet it’s also true that I lived in South Africa at a time when some people would say that simply going about your daily life reinforced a terrible injustice.
In Nibble & Kuhn I’m dealing with something much less serious, funny actually, and that is greed and pretension. I understand the role courts and lawyers play, but I’ve also seen it very close up. It’s not a pretty sight.
The romance between your hero Derek Dover and the intriguing Maria Parma is not your usual love affair circa 2009. What was most challenging when you wrote about these characters and their attraction to each other?
It was easy. Maria lives in her own world and has an unusual set of values and priorities, but while she’s obviously quite unconventional she also has her head screwed on absolutely straight, even if it takes her a while to sort out the tangle she gets herself into. I love the way she sees the world, and she embodies the traits and quirks I’ve found most compelling in women I’ve known over the years.
Q: The climax of the novel involves a trial the judge never wanted to have. Isn’t it unusual for a judge to be so direct in his demanding a settlement? Is it really true that the attorneys in firms like NIBBLE & KUHN almost never go inside a courtroom?
A: Are you kidding (on both questions?) If judges didn’t get lawyers to settle almost every case that is filed, the whole system would collapse under its own weight. Everyone knows it. Personal injury lawyers troll the internet and airwaves for claims to bring, and then bring them in the thousands, and if they didn’t get paid a ransom, of which they get a hefty cut, to drop the cases and walk away the whole system would break down. The courts couldn’t possibly actually try all the injury claims that are brought. So in the end, the plaintiffs’ lawyers get paid handsomely (sports team owning, private jet chartering, mansion building, handsomely), the company lawyers get paid some very wonderful hourly rate, the judges and court reporters and courtroom officers and expert witnesses and trial exhibit creators and jury consultants and focus group experts all make a good living, and sometimes some ordinary people actually walk away with something too, almost coincidentally. Guess who pays for all this? We all do. A dollar or two at a time on some of the things we buy, hundreds or thousands added onto others, but we pay. And an army of self righteous blowhards will be quick to tell us how lucky we are to have them fighting for justice on our behalves.
And on the second point, most lawyers in the “trial” departments of large law firms are like glorified, overpaid, squabbling, fancy dressed, claims adjusters. They never come close to trying cases or to having to persuade juries of anything. In fact, you can swing a bat in a trial partners' meeting at just about every major big city white shoe firm without hitting anyone who’s looked into a juryperson’s eye for a decade.
Q: There is a definite “arc” in the personal and professional education of your hero Derek Dover Are you saying something here about how law is practiced today, and the toll this takes?
A: This could be a personal matter. When I was a young lawyer in New York, on some mornings I would pray that the elevator cable would snap and plunge me fifty stories into the basement so that I didn’t have to show up in those horrible beige offices. It got easier over time, and I’ve always made a lot of money which made it hard to leave, and I’ve met some fine and interesting people along the way. But unlike Derek I stuck with it and tried to make the most of it. Derek’s more courageous than I am, frankly. But then he has Maria.
Q: Your next novel will be a sequel to EMPIRE SETTINGS. When you were last in South Africa what were your feelings about how the country of your childhood and youth had changed?
A: My next novel, Ivory from Paradise, is not really a sequel to Empire Settings but rather a companion to it. Many of the same people are in it, and several years have passed.
Empire Settings was the story of a love affair between people of different races under apartheid, and how it left them, many years later, what they remembered and what they regretted.
Ivory from Paradise, on the other hand, is the story about a fight over someone’s possessions, but it’s really a story about the ownership of memory, how different people can remember the same thing in starkly different terms, and how this can affect how they act in quite concrete ways. Who really owns anything, in the end, or any place, and can one’s fondest memories turn out to be not much more than an insult to others, are the central themes of the novel?
My years in South Africa remain the central building blocks of my life, and the end of apartheid was one of the more exciting things I’ve seen happen. And yet I am also disappointed by many things in the new South Africa; the wasted opportunities, a new kind of racism that makes civil discourse difficult, corruption, nepotism, rampant crime and pervasive violence. Whether the country thrives or sinks depends, in my view, in large measure on whether people opt for honesty in how they see both the past and the present. Time will tell.