I have spent this past week at our international software licensing council meeting. I have met many of our licensing experts from around the country and around the globe. Unfortunately, the meeting always takes place on one of our campuses 15 minutes from my home. It would be great if we could move the meeting to Canada or Latin America some years, but for now, I am home. And I am watching the last of the late spring snow melt off of my daughter’s snowman.
While a lot of the terms and technology discussed at the meetings soared far above my head, it has been fascinating to meet with people who are integral to the creation and drafting of our software licenses. On its face, our business sells manufactured products. Inherent in those products, however, are thousands of hard and soft components necessary to make the products run.
Technology has always been a core piece of our business. I have discussed before numerous areas where we have been at the forefront of particular technology advancement. Some technology remained salient to our core business, and some fell by the wayside, only to be successfully utilized by other companies. But meeting with folks who actually create some of the ingredients in our product stew opened my eyes to a world that for me, has thus far existed under the radar….
Too often in-house, we become insulated in our positions as counsel, believing that we are responsible only to our assigned clients, and then, only as far as our services are required. However, part of that responsibility is to continue to become as educated as possible about every aspect of the job at hand. If that job entails a step toward selling a product, it behooves counsel to know as much as possible about the product. And then, once counsel feels that they have a handle on the product itself, it is beneficial to become fluent with the components of that product, and how those components are created. This is a major difference between firm life, and in-house work.
In a firm, you are often tasked with understanding a business model: what the business does and how you can help the business to achieve set goals. This goes for litigation as well as corporate work. Usually, this does not require a deep dive into the components at the core of your client’s business. If you are like most firm attorneys, assigned several clients within your specialty, you need to know enough to be dangerous, ultimately becoming helpful to your client. In-house work requires a more finely tuned understanding of the business.
In the beginning, this requires a basic understanding of aspects of the company relevant to your work. As time passes, your knowledge base is expected to grow. To avoid complacency, this can entail any number of strategies necessary to gain a sharp expertise into not only what the company does, but the internal processes and components that make the company work.
For me, this past week has offered insight into a micro-process within my company. Given the new knowledge that I now possess, I will be able to better serve my clients by applying that knowledge to my meta-view of the products. I intend to continue to seek out so called micro-processes. I encourage any in-house counsel, especially those servicing supply side clients, to seek out topics that may seem minute in regard to the larger duties at hand, but which can broaden your expertise, and thus, assist you within your job, and ultimately your in-house career.
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.