Biglaw, In-House Counsel

Inside Straight: The On-Boarding Process

Two comments from folks who recently moved in-house prompt this post.

The first comment came from a guy who spent more than ten years with an Am Law 100 firm before moving in-house: “When I was reading the newspaper on Sunday, I realized something. Before I moved in-house, I never truly understood ‘Dilbert’ and the cubicle culture. Now, I do.”

The second comment came from a guy who spent more than 20 years with two different AmLaw 100 firms before moving in-house: “When I moved laterally between law firms, my new firm understood that my time had value. I arrived at 9 on the first day and was working on client matters before noon. My office was ready to go, and we held the bureaucratic stuff to a minimum.

“I moved in-house, and it took days before I could start working. I screwed around with immigration forms and health insurance; I needed computer passwords; when I arrived, my office didn’t have even a pen and pad of paper, let alone a telephone or a computer in it. You realize pretty quickly that you’re in a nonbillable world, and no one seems to care very much whether or not you actually do anything. I figure that, if they don’t care, why should I?”

In the words of Mr. Kurtz: “The horror! The horror!”

If you work in a supervisory position in-house, you really can’t let this happen.

If you hire enough people, you’ll hire some bad ones: People who arrive at 9 in the morning primarily focused on leaving at 5.

But if you’re lucky enough to have hired good people, you can’t dishearten them on the first day. New hires can’t arrive at the office ready to be productive and then be prevented from doing anything because the company wasn’t prepared to receive them.

Good lawyers at law firms don’t spend days at the office marking time. Good lawyers arrive in the morning as early as necessary to start getting things done, and they leave when the tasks have been accomplished. Sitting in the office killing time isn’t on the agenda.

When a good lawyer moves in-house, don’t let your bureaucracy kill the industrious spirit. You simply cannot project to a solid employee the sense that work doesn’t matter, and no one really minds if you spend your first week doing nothing. It’s easy to kill a good attitude, and that will do it.

If your company doesn’t automatically have a decent on-boarding process, then take things into your own hands. The night before the new hire arrives, be sure that the person’s office (or cubicle) is fully equipped. It needs a computer. It needs a phone. It needs a BlackBerry that can send and receive messages on the corporate system. The desk should have a pad of paper, some pens, and the other essentials.

On the new employee’s first day, you obviously must follow the protocol. Do the things that HR requires. Introduce the new employee around. Explain the basics of the company and the job. Set up a lunch date to introduce the new employee to some of the old-timers. And then put the new employee in an environment where it’s possible to do some work. The corporate attitude must be that we need you up and running as quickly as possible, because we actually do things in this department.

Corporations, and law departments, that don’t tend to the on-boarding process are making a terribly — perhaps irreparably — bad first impression.

You don’t want your new lawyers going home after their first week on the job, popping open the Sunday paper, and realizing that now, for the first time, they truly understand “Dilbert.”


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 inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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