February 1, 2012 is a singularly important day to Rush geeks (like me). 2112, get it? I’ve been drumming for over 30 years, and was brought up on trying to play along with Mr. Peart. While I succeeded somewhat in gaining enough chops to play Moving Pictures, Side 1 (back when they had albums, which had sides), and I am proud to say I’ve played some legendary clubs in the Village, the drums never became my end all and be all. Neither did acting, which I tried when I was in my 20s.
When they learn of my distant past, people always ask if I was in anything they’d know — and the answer is that I auditioned for several things they’d know, but since I’m “happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company,” which is impressive, it obviously never panned out. So, as I gaze out my 20th floor window over the lack of snow in upstate New York, my thoughts turn to where I am and where I may be going. Obama gets to give a speech every year on the state of the country, so why can’t I muse about a much smaller universe — the state of the union between me, and others, and the law?
In-house work is a much easier gig than any of my previous jobs — there, I said it. It is a wonderful experience to be able to spend time with my family, take vacations as planned, and not ever have to account for my time, as long as the deals close, and the job gets done professionally. The worst aspect of my job is dealing with periodic downsizing within the company, and sweating whether an involuntary reduction in force (IRIF) will trickle into our department. So far, it has happened only once, and it was awful. I’ll describe the events in more detail in another column, but driving into work and seeing news vans out front with reporters getting shots of the carnage was sickening.
However, layoffs occur in every aspect of legal employment (except clerkships), and dealing with them has become par for the course for most attorneys. And, it could be worse than I have it. There are much larger tech companies who are downsizing large percentages of their in-house attorneys wholesale. Pay freezes have become much more common than raises, and bonuses can never be budgeted in this economy. It’s become the state of the profession to think “at least I have a job.”
However, there are signs of improvement. At last check, the ACC career site had over 700 postings for in-house jobs; 100-plus added in the last month. Lateral hiring is growing, and reading the sidebar column on this site shows that recruiting in Asia seems to be picking up. The downward spiral has been a long one, and coming onto the next hill of this roller coaster will take a long time. I entered the profession during the period when the salary wars were at their genesis, and I was lucky to enjoy the fruits of that bounty during my time in New York City. That upswing lasted until the early part of the “Aughts,” and I want to believe we’ve suffered the worst of the recession. Of course, with markets using Greece as a litmus, and the EU’s dissension looking ever more ominous, we’ll have to wait and see where the next five years take us. But I remain optimistic given the signs of life in the hiring market, that for lawyers, at least, the worst may be over.
The old adage that bankruptcy breeds litigation which breeds fresh corporate work may be coming to fruition in some areas. According to Tom Wallerstein, whose writing I can only attempt, and fail, to match, Silicon Valley seems to be coming out of hibernation — let’s hope that he’s correct. In sum, it seems that life for in-housers and smaller boutiques might be on the road to improvement, but where does that leave firms? I cannot profess to more than anecdotal knowledge, but I am aware that many firms are running much leaner and meaner ships these days. Just because the recession hit didn’t mean that entities stopped suing one another, or that corporate work dried up completely. There are still filings to be filed and compliance issues with which to comply, and I am working with more and more outside firms in my everyday business with Customers.
The problem is that after the layoffs earlier this decade, there are fewer associates, and partners, to do the work. The folks I know at firms are working harder than ever, out of necessity, not because of an abundance of work coming in the door. They are working their fingers to the bone on pipeline matters and trying to keep their noses above water. Still, if this is indeed the beginning of a turnaround, and once noses begin to go under, the firms will be forced to start hiring to assist with new work as well as old.
If I had written this column a year ago, it would have been lacking in cautious optimism. However, at the start of 2012, I am more than looking forward to what the year will bring, and I wish the best to all of us in this godforsaken profession we call home.
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 email@example.com.