Holidays and Seasons, In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: December Drama

Ahh, on the cusp of December. A month that brings another full year to a close with annoyingly cheery carols overtaking radio stations, multi-colored lights and decorations dredged up from years past, and an excuse to fill up on a week’s worth of heavy food in one sitting because, after all… it’s family time.

As December settles into the workplace, law firm associates and their non-equity partner peers are scrambling to confirm that they’ll meet their billable hour targets for the year. And partners are scrambling to get all of their outstanding receivables paid up by the end of the month. After all, the more money they can get into the firm’s accounts by year’s end, the better their bonuses will be in the spring. All of the lawyers are hoping that they’ll get an end of year break with little work to do over the holiday week. ‘Tis the season for hope.

And of course, associates are anxiously awaiting news — any news — about firms’ bonuses. How did lawyers ever manage in the dark days without ATL’s Bonus Watch?

For the in-house lawyer, December is also a month like none other….

December rings in highlights for in-house lawyers as well, such as tedious self-performance evaluations (most of us have to wait until the new year for reviews and bonus info), schmoozy holiday parties, and dealing with business clients who haven’t met their targets or used up their budget. The first two items involve some effort and energy during December, but targets and budget numbers can affect the in-house lawyer’s sanity during this joyous eggnog season.

Once November (really Thanksgiving break) has passed, how the in-house lawyer’s December will fare will be somewhat of a crapshoot, depending on which business people you support and how good their end of year numbers look.

If you support sales or similar functions, your December will be affected by how well your clients met their sales targets. If they’ve already met their targets for the year, they’ll probably be fine with just coasting along the rest of the month. They won’t come begging to you for any favors.

On the other hand, if they haven’t met their targets, they’ll be scrambling like crazy this month trying to find a few more additional sales. This means that they’ll be hunting you down — for contracts and other documents that you’ll need to draft or approve at the last minute. But only like 20 of them. By tomorrow, pretty please.

And then there are budgets. Each business unit spends a lot of time with budgets — planning them for the next year, monitoring how they’re doing against budget throughout the year, and then, at the very end, hustling to use up every penny of their budget. Why is this?

Throughout the year, every department is trying to be careful not to overspend their budget, because if they do, who knows whether they’ll have enough money for the stuff they want to do later in the year? And overspending makes the CFO a really unhappy camper. They’re also trying to be prudent — you know, like saving for rainy day (or a totally unexpected business crisis).

You’d think that companies would reward you for using your allocated finances more efficiently than expected and ending up with a ton of extra money at the end. I mean that can’t be a bad thing, right? WRONG.

Here’s how it goes down when you don’t use up all of the money your department has been allotted. At the beginning of the next year, Finance takes a look at your numbers and says, “Hmm, you have about $100k left over from last year’s budget. It looks like you were budgeted a lot more than you needed last year, so we’ll just slash this year’s budget by $100k. Mmmm…K?” Yes, your department will be penalized for not using up all of that precious money.

Who wants their budgets decreased in any amount ever? No one. So instead, what happens is that during the merry month of December, clients decide to buy last-minute “gifts” with all of that extra dough. These gifts will come in various forms, such as more sophisticated equipment for the department (like a brand new copier printer so big it probably has a GPS system and converts into a Batmobile), work trips in December that were originally planned to take place in the new year, and purchases of additional products and services that were considered too pricy before.

Extra budget often means extra last minute requests for you to review new service contracts, promotions, and product ideas. By tomorrow, if possible.

The good thing about working in-house is that nobody, but nobody, wants to work through the holiday week. You may have a few random issues come up here and there, but if you’re in the office, you can pretty much count on it being a very quiet week. More likely, you can deal with the few matters, if any, that arise while working from home in your jammies or while on vacation far away from the office.

The bad thing is that nobody, but nobody, wants to work through holiday week. So if you have contracts pending or business people who haven’t met their targets or used up their budget, the few weeks before holiday week can be absolute madness. But such is the nature of the month of December for an in-house lawyer — ‘tis the season.

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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