Biglaw, In-House Counsel

Inside Straight: On Lawyers’ Garnitures

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Lawyers in private practice collect things.

The lawyers use those collections to adorn professional biographies that appear on firm web pages. The garnitures generally include (1) experiences (which are trumpeted in the form of “deal lists” or “representative engagements”), (2) publications, and (3) speaking engagements. After you pick off a case in the Second Circuit, or publish an article in the National Law Journal, or give a talk to an industry group, you go home and polish your online image; you update your bio.

When you’re in private practice, it makes sense to do this. You are, after all, trying to attract business, so your online bio is essentially your calling card. Strangers may visit the website and see your bio; you may send a link to potential clients; you may print the bio and hand it out during a beauty contest.

In an odd way, for many people, assembling these collections marks the passage of time. (“2005? I was up to my eyeballs in MDL 1150.” “1997? That was when we tried the Doe case.”) You’re nuts, of course, if those professional moments even begin to approach the significance of truly important stuff — marriage, the birth of a child, a death in the family — but those events mark time, in the same way that changing seasons do.

Ultimately, who’s to say that collecting stuff is wrong? People collect stamps, and coins, and books, and they take some pleasure there. Maybe collecting experiences, or achievements, fills the same psychic need. Or maybe the need to achieve, and to prove your achievements to the world, is hard-wired into many people who spent their early years in college, law school, and law firms, pursuing a succession of brass rings….

Reasonable minds can differ over the value of lawyers’ garnitures. Relevant experience matters, so it makes good sense for lawyers in private practice to track that closely. Beyond that, however, personal relationships and the quality of your work largely determine how much new business you’ll attract. The other stuff matters, but you do it primarily to raise your personal profile, and you deploy the results primarily around the edges. Once in a blue moon, your law review article on “naming trade associations as defendants in lawsuits pleading industry-wide conspiracies” will become the centerpiece of some pitch that you’re making, but don’t hold your breath. More often, you’ll simply include lists of articles and speeches, or a reprint or two, in a client handout, basically to imply that, since you’ve written (or spoken) about a subject, you must know what you’re talking about. Maybe, at the end of the pitch, you’ll mention in passing that you’re widely published and naturally listed in all of the usual publications that rate the country’s leading lawyers. First, you collect; then, you deploy.

If you’re a collector at heart — if you take some satisfaction in attaining and cataloging achievements — you may miss your hobby if you go in-house.

In-house lawyers don’t collect things or, at a minimum, don’t collect things as publicly as outside counsel do.

Once you’re in-house, you’re no longer marketing your services to the world at large. There’s no reason to post your bio on your corporation’s website. Your colleagues who work in business units will seek your advice for many reasons, but the quantity of your speaking engagements and quality of your publications won’t be high on the list. No one will care very much if you were listed in the Best Lawyers in America or profiled in Chambers.

When you move in-house, you stop collecting. Gathering experience takes care of itself; after a few years at a corporation, you’ll probably have a decent sense of your industry. You can continue to write articles or give talks, but you won’t do this to generate business. (You may do these things for other reasons, such as to share a thought with the world or influence a public debate, to accommodate a friend or colleague who needs a speaker, or to raise the profile of your corporation or its law department. Those motivations, however, often seem less urgent than the need to attract new business that permeates private practice.)

Even if you continue to speak and write after you go in-house, there will be little need to track those accomplishments; they simply don’t serve the purpose they once did.

So think about that.

Now that I’m in-house (and writing this column), I’ve been contacted by a fair number of folks in private practice seeking advice about whether (and how) to make a similar move. Some of those people have a knack for writing articles, being invited to give talks, and otherwise maintaining a high public profile. Those people may regret leaving private practice and thus losing the impetus to maintain their hobby — to keep expanding their collections in the future.

Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link).

You can reach him by email at

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