Under extreme pressure from all quarters — well, my wife thought it was a good idea, anyway — I’ve committed to publish a compendium of “Inside Straight” columns in the form of a book. ABA Publishing tells me that, in June, you’ll be able to hold in your hands Inside Straight: [followed by a clever subtitle]! (This obviously remains a work in progress.)
I have two items of good news about the forthcoming book and two requests for your help. First, the good news: The book will not simply be about me; it will also be about you! In addition to reproducing a collection of my columns, the book will include assorted “comments” that you, my readers, have appended to my posts. The book will thus answer many of your burning questions: Do I read the comments? Will I reproduce in the book the nastiest of the comments? (That raises the obvious derivative issue: Am I a self-loathing lunatic?) When I choose which comments to publish in the book, will “Bonobo Bro” make the cut? Will “Concerned Pastafarian”? Find out the answers to those questions — and more! — in Inside Straight: The Book!
The other good news is that David Lat has agreed to contribute a foreword to the book. Whatever you think of the quality of my writing, you know that Lat can write. The foreword alone is worth the entire price of the book!
So much for the good news; now, the requests for your help . . .
For every matter that we handle, we need one “unifying mind.” We need one person at the helm; that person must either personally know everything that’s happening in the matter or, at a minimum, know where the knowledge lies. (Extraordinary cases may be beyond the capacity of a single unifying mind and may require two or more. But those situations are exceptional, and they pose challenges beyond what I’m thinking about today.)
The unifying mind might be found anywhere in the hierarchy, depending on the type of matter involved. At a law firm, the unifying mind can be a partner, if the matter is large and the partner a hands-on type. Or the unifying mind can be an associate charged with monitoring and tracking all events. But everyone on the team should know who’s at the helm, so everyone knows the person who should receive copies of correspondence, alerts about upcoming events, and reports about how things are going.
At an in-house law department, we, too, must have a unifying mind for every matter. In the litigation world, a corporation may have several line lawyers whose job is to supervise cases on a day-to-day basis. The line lawyer primarily responsible for overseeing a particular case should typically serve as the unifying mind for that matter. Outside counsel should communicate with that person, and everyone in-house should know that’s the lawyer to call if they need detailed information about a lawsuit.
That’s all fine in theory, but two things often screw this up in practice. What two things?
Suppose you’re doing business in a country that is perceived as being corrupt. For example, Myanmar, North Korea, and Somalia take the bottom three slots in the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Okay, let me rephrase that: Suppose you’re doing business in a country where it’s actually lawful to do business, but the country is perceived as being corrupt. Cambodia or Zimbabwe might fit the bill. (On reflection, it strikes me that my own company may actually do business in those two places. If we do, then I, naturally, love the judicial systems in Cambodia and Zimbabwe. If my company is ever in court in one of those places, please don’t hold this column against us. It’s just that terribly unfair perception of corruption that gives you guys a bad name.)
How do you conduct business there?
Very carefully, of course.
As a matter of compliance, your company must implement policies that forbid payments that are customary in the corrupt place, but forbidden by U.S. law. And your company must enforce those policies, perhaps by having a regional group that approves third parties with whom you do business or otherwise strives to comply with the law.
But that’s the front end. What do you do at the back end, if you find yourself in a dispute in the corrupt place?
I deduce that my application has posed an extraordinarily challenging decision for you. After all, I applied for admission in the fall of 1978, was placed on the wait list some time that winter, and am still awaiting your final decision. I certainly appreciate the effort that you have invested in considering my application during the intervening decades.
As you might imagine, this has not been an easy thirty years for me, either. Every day, through the changing seasons and changing seasons of my life, I have approached the mailbox with trepidation, thinking that I might finally experience the exhilaration of acceptance or the agony of rejection. But it was not to be; I never heard a word. I’ve decided it’s time to spare you the effort of further deliberation.
I’ve thought about you each fall and winter, as you’ve surely re-opened and dusted off my typewritten application and compared it to the new e-submissions that you probably receive today. How do my accomplishments from the late 1970s compare to the accomplishments of my current competitors? I’m certain, for example, that grade inflation has worked to my detriment, as my grades are stuck at the old levels and younger folks get higher grades with each passing year. It’s just not fair.
I occasionally take advantage of my little megaphone here at Above the Law to vent about poor quality drafts. When I do, “commenters” or correspondents routinely suggest that I’m tilting at windmills: “If you receive a poor quality draft, send it back to the person who wrote it, and tell that person to make it better. There’s no reason why you, Mark, should be saddled with improving the thing.”
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again!
I’m absolutely saddled with improving the thing. It often makes no sense at all to return a bad draft to the author and ask for a better draft. In fact, I submit that there are only two situations in which it does make sense to ask the original author to improve a draft . . .
Someone in the company is going rogue: The person proposes to do something brazenly illegal, or slightly illegal, or perfectly legal but sufficiently immoral that the conduct would turn any reasonable person’s stomach. The rogue is not listening to logic. The person is ignoring everything that your local in-house lawyer is saying.
When the local lawyer calls the headquarters law department for help, these are the words that headquarters must be able to speak: “Local lawyer, you win. This is not a close call; we should not be doing this. In this situation, I guarantee you that you hold the trump card. Who do you need to make a call to solve your problem? The general counsel? The chief financial officer? The CEO? Someone else? We will cause that call to be made in a heartbeat. What do you need?”
Is that what people mean when they talk about “tone at the top”?
What’s the difference between a lawyer and a doctor?
Lawyers often do not need second opinions.
Let me explain: Many corporate transactions (or decisions) require advice from an outside adviser — an investment bank; an accountant; a lawyer; whoever. (Back when I was an outside lawyer, I used to think that lawyers were special. Now, you all look alike to me.) In many of those situations, the corporation needs one, strong outside opinion. If someone offers (or requests) a second opinion, then you should think hard. In a few situations, you might want a second opinion. But, frequently, obtaining a second opinion may do more harm than good.
I wrote last week about how an in-house lawyer overwhelmed by volume should stop worrying and learn to love the ignorance. Talking about ignorance plays to my strength, so I’m choosing here to expand the discussion.
When you’re at a law firm, it’s likely that you sell in part substantive expertise. You’ve assembled a “deal list” to prove that you know more about technology licensing than any other person on earth, or your “case list” shows that you’re better able to handle 10b-5 class actions than all those other pretenders. You may be selling certain things beyond substantive expertise — experience, relationships, presence — but substantive knowledge is part of the package.
When you move in-house, you’re no longer selling anything, because your poor corporate client is doomed to work with you, no matter what your state of ignorance. You’ll no longer polish your deal or case lists, because no one cares anymore.
But it’s worse than that: You won’t simply stop polishing your deal and case lists. You’re actually likely to lose some chunk of your substantive expertise….
One lawyer offers to represent you for $1000 an hour. Another lawyer offers to represent you for $400 an hour. Who’s more expensive?
The correct answer is: You don’t know.
You don’t know for three reasons. First, some $1000-an-hour guys are remarkably specialized.
The efficiencies triggered by specialization are obvious: If I need a lawyer to call the local real estate office and cause my form to be moved from the bottom of the pile to the top, there may be only one person in town who can make that call. He charges $1000 an hour; I buy a half hour of his time; I get off cheap. The $400-an-hour guy can assign a troop of $150-an-hour associates to research local real estate procedures until the cows come home, but that firm is not going to be cheap.
Specialization can yield efficiencies for other reasons, too. If I have a question about a particularly obscure subsection of some obscure law, there may be two ways to get an answer: (1) Call the $1000-an-hour lawyer whose entire practice is devoted to subsection VI(B)(2)(a)(iii) of the Obscurity Code, and have him respond in two hours with an answer, or (2) Have the $400-an-hour lawyer try to figure out the answer from scratch. Who do you suppose is cheaper?
But specialization is the easy case. $1000-an-hour guys can be inexpensive for other reasons, too….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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