I recently spent a week in Denver over two days (“ba dum bum”). The day I arrived, the temperature hit a record high of 80 degrees, and it snowed several inches the next evening. I was supposed to be attending (and enjoying) the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Annual Meeting, but instead, I was frantically trying to close deals for month end. A constant barrage of emails and calls from clients kept me from really focusing on the innumerable offerings at the conference.
I have written before in this space about my membership in ACC, and no, I don’t get paid to mention what a wonderful organization it is, and has been, for this fairly new in-house attorney. I cannot stress enough the importance of an organization like ACC for a new in-house counselor. Not only are there countless resources available on the ACC website — everything from forms, templates, e-groups, and career services — but there are also any number of networking opportunities for the enterprising lawyer….
I have had lunch with the general counsel of Coca-Cola and attended panel discussions with GCs from Procter and Gamble, Bank of America, AIG, and countless other heavy hitters. These are folks at the top of their game and some of the elites in the legal world. I have had the opportunity to learn from these folks for the nominal cost of an association membership, for which my company foots the bill. ACC is not the end all and be all, though I’d argue it could be. There are a number of other organizations that the new in-house lawyer could join as soon as getting his or her new office. Utilizing all that these organizations have to offer can make the transition to going in-house that much smoother.
When you have your footing, consider writing articles for the organization’s magazine or newsletter, join a committee, or even volunteer to serve on a board of interest. This coming year I am chairing ACC’s New to In-House Committee, which is limited to in-house attorneys with five years or less of in-house experience. I am always reminding myself that new to in-house does not mean new to practice — some of our members are in their 50s or over, and have been practicing law for many years.
I enjoyed Denver once I got over the altitude sickness and the time change. Trying to accomplish those feats in two days is a bit silly, but when my head snapped up from my Blackberry long enough to enjoy the scenery, Denver had a lot to offer. It may be my jaded New York mentality, but I can’t recall ever being surrounded by such friendly people, from the cab driver who had an interesting theory on a grand wide-receiver conspiracy in the NFL, to the bartenders and servers where various functions were held. Everyone was so darned nice.
I also enjoyed on of my top ten meals ever at Luca D’Italia. I cannot recommend that restaurant highly enough to those of you traveling through Denver. No, I don’t get paid for that either. I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em, and the chef’s tasting menu was out of this world. However, just as the lightheadedness from the altitude was wearing off, it was time to head back home. Next year’s Annual Meeting is in Orlando; my kids are already politicking to come along. I hope to meet more of you in Florida next September.
I wrote last week about what to do when you first go in-house. One issue that I wanted to focus on more than cursorily is learning the politics of your new job. Law firms have a fairly clearly delineated hierarchy — rainmaker(s), managing partner, partners, junior partners, senior associates, and associates. A large in-house organization can have multiple layers of horizontal peer groups, and largely everyone is partner-level. Among those layers of people are folks with more power politically (e.g., closer to the GC’s ear), and those without.
For me, the best way to navigate these new arenas is to restrain the “gunner” trait of a new employee who wants to impress the boss(es), and learn the lay of the land as far as politics. I admittedly do not possess the best instincts for who might be a mentor and who has a dark side; I usually leave those assessments to my wife. Unfortunately, she only meets some of these folks at social gatherings, and after a few glasses of wine, even the most wicked people can come off as perfectly pleasant.
After some time in the new job, you come to understand which people can break you like a pretzel stick, and who are those that are willing to help you in your career. It is the latter group that you want to rely heavily on as you make your entry into a new position. They are the ones who will always take your calls and answer your questions. The former group will inevitably have to be dealt with, with kid gloves, but by that time, hopefully, you’ll be well on your way in your new position. Always keep in mind that though the corporation may be your client, those that work with you, and especially above you, can be every bit as important to your new career as protecting the interests of your “client.”
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.