Forces of English King Henry V and French King Charles VI sally out for the Battle of Agincourt (1415).  Henry’s introduction of the longbow helped him win the fracas — and the French regency.

An East Coast trial law firm distintegrated this month over a dispute about partner pay, according to a report that described the firm as an "eat what you kill" kind of place.

The imploding law firm story set Blawgletter to thinking about how little the defunct firm’s compensation system resembles the "eat what you kill" approach at Blawgletter’s firm.  (More on this later.)  But the imploding law firm story also got Blawgletter to reminiscing about where eat what you kill may have come from.

The September 2006 issue of Barnett’s Notes on Commercial Litigation challenged readers to find a pre-September 1986 publication that used eat what you kill in the sense of tying a lawyer’s compensation to his performance.  Peter Lattman’s Law Blog in The Wall Street Journal responded, asking online subscribers:  "Did Barry Barnett Invent the Phrase ‘Eat What You Kill?’"

The WSJ Law Blog comments didn’t settle the issue.  Some of them recalled earlier uses but gave no citations.  Others supposed that the coinage claim implied depravity or worse, and another suggested that claimant’s firm’s opening of a New York office drew "gunners" from everywhere to live on the streets of Manhattan in hopes of landing a job.  Touche.

But hark!  Another source cited a slightly earlier usage — from 1599.  He pointed to a play in which Shakespeare wrote about the French Dauphin, son of King Charles VI, who fairly panted to smash the English King Henry V’s smaller force at the impending Battle of Agincourt (1415). 

The heir to the throne, the Bard tells us, "longs for morning."  A lord replies that the French prince "longs to eat the English" and the Constable of France that "I think he will eat all he kills."  Henry V, Act 3, Scene VII.

A later posting in the WSJ Law Blog also didn’t draw a definitive answer.  What say you?


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