Bonuses, General Counsel, In-House Counsel, Litigators, Money, Tax Law

House Rules: Spring Breakers

Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.

I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.

Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?

I will tell you that I make nowhere near a Biglaw associate Class of ’99 — but I never bill hours, and I can count on one hand the number of family dinners that I have missed. There are periodic issuances of RSUs, as well as a annual non-guaranteed bonus pool. There is also a capped, company-matched 401k. All in all, it’s not spectacular, but it is good. So, take the package from the anonymous tipster yesterday and ratchet down a few (okay, many) notches, and you’ll be in the ballpark of most in-house attorneys.

The primary issue that keeps us New Yorkers from truly gaining ground in terms of savings and investments, as is always the case for us “rich” folks, is taxes. New York State gives plenty of lip service to “understanding that the taxes here are burdens for new business development and a reason that many people flee the state,” but nothing ever changes. When I lived in the City, I also had the onerous “local” tax on top of State and Federal. I have regularly paid out more in taxes than some teachers make in a year. Many of you know what I’m talking about. So, when considering the move in-house, with its usual salary haircut, don’t only think in terms of real estate, but also tax burdens. I am fortunate that I can telecommute from anywhere in the country and still service my clients in a timely fashion. I am one of those who does not mind missing “Breaking Bad” to participate in a conference call. That is why God invented the DVR. But, for many, working litigator type hours is not an incentive to go in-house. For us former litigators, it is simply a way of life. I do not begrudge those who prefer regular working schedules (that get blown to heck at quarter end), it’s just that I prefer to coach my kids’ teams and work later into the evening. It gives me an opportunity to be a Dad, as well as making my West Coast clients happy.

As I enjoy a week off with the kids, I have time to think about where to go from here. Once you have a grasp on the job at hand, you begin to realize where your shortcomings lie. Mine, admittedly, are in the Finance, Securities and Compliance realm. Luckily, I have opportunities to explore these avenues in an effort to broaden my knowledge base. It is true that many GCs come from corporate backgrounds, so they bring to the position a solid grounding in such issues. I may have litigated cases on those topics, but I cannot say at this time that I am competent in them. So, I started asking around. It didn’t take long to come across the following symposium: “The Corporate Compliance Forum Panel: ‘What a Compliance Officer Needs to Know,’” April 23, 2013, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., Fordham Law School, Lincoln Center Campus, Lowenstein Building (113 West 60th Street), South Lounge.

Yes, I know there are literally hundreds of these types of conferences each year, but this time, I may make my way to NYC. Especially to see panelists like these:

  • Carlos Hawker, VP & Compliance Manager for Latin America and Iberia, CCO Brazil and Deputy AML Officer Americas, BlackRock;

  • Edward P. O’Keefe, Chief Operating Officer, Legal & Deputy General Counsel, Technology, Bank of America Corporation;
  • Kevin Rogan, Cluster Compliance Officer USA & Canada; US Legal Management Committee, Siemens Corp.; and
  • Matthew B. Siano, Managing Director, General Counsel, Two Sigma Investments, LLC.

Those are some heavy hitters, and I can ask Carlos about Mitt Romney’s Chinese Wall. Seriously, though, these are the types of people that you want to meet, and with whom you should network. Experience is everything if you want to advance in-house, and you should never shy away from an opportunity. It is difficult at best to advance through the world of in-house; you should take every opportunity to branch out and learn something new. It keeps you from getting stale, it allows you to add value to your cost center department, and it makes you a better all-around lawyer. Which someday might help to elevate you to a compensation package like the one described yesterday.

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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