Murum Aries Attigit. That phrase gets batted around a lot with my name attached to it. But, what does it really mean?Caesar described the concept in Commentarii de Bello Gallico. It literally translates to “the ram has touched the wall.” The “ram” meaning a battering ram, and “the wall” meaning a besieged city’s outer defenses. Under Roman Law, a general had the right to offer any terms to a besieged city. As long as the city submitted, the terms could be quite favorable. The Romans were quite civilized in this regard, and dispensing quite favorable, even beneficial, terms was not uncommon. Why destroy a city if you can turn it into an ally?
Of course, these terms were not available indefinitely. Diplomacy ended once the first battering ram touched the city’s walls. Then, the general was legally prohibited from offering any terms except complete destruction.
It is well known that this is my personal motto in litigation. I announced it in Righthaven, for example. And, the rest is history as the company now no longer exists. If only they had accepted the really reasonable terms they were offered before the ram touched the wall.
In fact, my most proud achievements while employing Murum Aries Attigit are those that nobody will ever hear about. They are cases where my clients authorized me to offer ludicrously generous terms, the other side accepted, and no metaphoric blood was shed. I wish I could talk about those, but usually they come along with confidentiality agreements. Suffice to say that I love those. Client gets a four figure bill instead of a six figure one. About half the time, the opposing party winds up calling me to represent them within a year or two.As an example, I once represented a party that got a ridiculous defamation demand. My personal desire was to utterly destroy the other party — and I had all the tools with which to do so. The allegedly defamatory statements were quite problematic for the plaintiff, but I had a full report from an official source proving each of them exactly true. The report was a public record but not one that the plaintiff thought we could find. We found it. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that we ultimately settled the matter, with my client even writing a check to the plaintiff. Why? It was smart. The client paid less than the cost of a motion to dismiss, or even a small discovery skirmish. The plaintiff’s lawyer could not believe his good luck in not getting dashed against the rocks. Client thanked me.
Of course, there is always the fool who thinks that favorable terms are a sign of weakness, or that some terms are not favorable enough. “Just walk away” is often something that gets put on the table. But, we always have
a Stercus Caput who will think that Murum Aries Attigit means blind aggression, or even that it contains a component of anger. Nothing could be further from the truth. (here is an utterly hilarious example specifically ¶32-35)
Murum Aries Attigit is an excuse for diplomacy and mercy. Once you release the Ram, you do so only after you realize that there is no talking sense into the besieged city. You do so only once you realize that you are not dealing with a rational opponent, and there is no other way to end the fight. You also do not deploy this unless you are pretty damn confident that you hold all the cards. But, with that confidence, you do not let them go once they realize they have lost. You make the offer. You explain what it means to continue past a certain point. You give them a reasonable amount of time to think about it. But, you do not let them go once they pass that point. Once the ram touches the wall, you have to commit to ending the other party as a going concern. You must leave the other party with nothing left with which to fight. Because, if a party is fool enough to refuse the favorable terms, that party is fool enough (and poorly advised enough) to keep being a pain in your ass until you finally put them down like a diseased animal.
At that point, you can confidently say Caput tuum in ano est, Murum Aries Attigit! Ok, just the second part.
I loved teaching this to my students. I had some who truly understood it. I love hearing from them. Imparting this kind of wisdom to my students meant a lot to me.
But, nothing could prepare me for this.
I have not taught for a while. But, one of the most rewarding things about teaching is staying in touch with my former students. One, in particular, struggled a bit in law school. But, he had some serious talent and passion. It just needed to be unlocked. The guy is now a pretty successful lawyer, and someone I am very proud to have had as a student.
But, nothing could have prepared me for this.
I woke up this morning to a photo in my inbox.
My former student just walked out of a tattoo parlor with “Το έμβολο έχει αγγίξει τον τοίχο” tattooed on his arm.
For those of you who don’t understand Greek, it translates to Latin as “Murum Aries Attigit”
Student called me shortly after sending it, saying “you inspired me to get that.”
I don’t know too many law professors who could inspire a student to do something like that.
Pretty fucking awesome.
I don’t expect too many to follow suit. But, I do ask that any readers who think they know what Murum Aries Attigit means, to make sure that they really understand it.
Of course, if you want to get it tattooed on you, go right ahead. Just remember what it really means.