California, Conferences / Symposia, In-House Counsel

House Rules: Collegiality

If there was ever a place where your self-esteem could be crushed just by stepping into an airport, Los Angeles is it. Being a New Yorker, I had the high-minded misconception that New York was the mecca of beautiful people, especially in summer. Wrong. I’ll end this tangent with the statement that I saw more perfectly tanned, toned, muscular, and ridiculously in shape people in the 15 minutes it took me to walk to baggage claim in LAX, than I have in my entire time in the Big Apple.

I was in L.A. to present at ACC’s Corporate Counsel University (“CCU”). CCU is a two-day nuts to bolt immersion program for folks who are new to in-house positions. It’s relatively small compared with the Annual Meeting, 200 or so attendees, but I have enjoyed presenting at this conference more than any other, because I can so readily identify with being new to in-house and feeling overwhelmed about how much I did not know….

My presentation is a quick overview of contracts and negotiation. I try to cover the salient points to contracting, as well as hit the issues that are most likely to be contentious; Limitations of Liability, Indemnity, and especially Confidentiality. It’s impossible to be comprehensive in 90 minutes, but we give it a shot. To me, the best part of the program are the many opportunities to meet new in-house counselors and discuss the varied topics relevant to them.

Another misconception I used to have was that most in-house counsel were like me -– working for a large corporation in a large law department. In fact, the opposite is true, most of the attendees are in small departments of 10 attorneys or less. They are new to positions that will require them to obtain vast stores of knowledge about many areas of law in little or no time at all. It is for this reason that I so enjoy getting to meet some of them and discuss different tangents of the law.

Usually, lawyer functions are dirges of minutiae and boring conversations that hinge on “what you’re working on,” “if you’re busy,” “where you went to school,” and on and on. At this event, however, folks are on fire about their new positions and how to cull nuggets of information that will help to make their way in a new job. Questions often start with “what do you do when,” “how would you deal with X,” and so on. I am in no way a guru of knowledge, but I enjoy the back and forth of imparting what little I have learned in my time in-house, and receiving tips from others in the same boat. I learn as much, if not more, than I offer. It is this collegiality that makes in-house work special. There is a certain camaraderie that exists with in-house attorneys that simply was not present when I was participating in local and state Bar functions in private practice. I suppose it has to do with the fact that, while we’re still hustling for money for our companies (to an extent), it’s not the same overt hunger that one feels when the burden of business development rests on your shoulders directly.

There is a certain relief that comes from having the pressures of business development rest with actual “business” people, allowing one to focus on the practice of law supporting those development efforts. That is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of in-house work; my skills are utilized to assist in the success of the larger enterprise. Success that inures back to me indirectly in year-end numbers, share price, and potential bonus amounts. Being among hundreds of like-minded individuals who aren’t forced to feed in the same chum that you are, is a refreshing change of pace from private practice. Do not misunderstand, I think business development for lawyers is an art, and I admire those that are talented enough to meet success in their efforts. It’s just that not having to do it makes me immensely happy.

The beautiful people turned out at LAX late last night to catch red-eyes to various destinations. The weather had also been perfect. But the traffic, outrageous cost of living, and the thought of actually having to get in shape, deter me from taking any thoughts of moving to L.A. into reality. Once David Beckham has walked (floated) past you in a hotel lobby, and the overwhelming shame at your own lack of manhood has sent you crying into a nine dollar glass of beer, getting home to a simpler, and more real, life can be quite satisfying.

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

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