Susan Moon

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

Posts by Susan Moon

Suppose you had two work colleagues. Both are great lawyers. Both produce superior results, and are admired and respected by their peers for their substantive knowledge and work ethic. Lawyer #1 shows up to most meetings a little bit late, sits hunched over, and speaks in low tones that are difficult to hear, making eye contact with only one or two people in the room. Lawyer #2 is always on time, sits straight, and speaks clearly and loudly enough for everyone to hear, while making eye contact all around the conference table. Lawyer #2 even has nice teeth.

Again, assuming both lawyers are equally competent in their subject matter areas, whom would you send to the next important meeting with the senior executives? Since this is not a trick question, no duh — Lawyer #2. Heck, I’d choose #2 over #1 for anything I even semi-care about (including proper dental hygiene).

Executive presence is one of those soft skills that they just don’t teach you about in law school. Yet, it’s a critical quality you’ll need to perfect in order for you to gain your clients’ trust and to progress in your career. Your pretty face and ability to spew out boilerplate assignment provisions in your sleep will not get you there alone. And despite its name, executive presence is not just for executives….

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Hello readers! This post marks the one-year anniversary of my writing for Above The Law. **Hooray!** Whew, okay, now that all of that crazy excitement is over with, let’s move on.

Every once in a while, I meet people who ask whether there’s any value in doing a clerkship if they would eventually like to practice transactional law in-house. Like a dutiful little blogger, I consulted with several senior in-house attorneys on their thoughts about whether a clerkship is valuable for an in-house transactional practice.

The lawyers I consulted who hadn’t clerked generally saw little to no value in a clerkship with respect to an in-house transactional practice. Why spend an entire year of effort on something that’s not going to be directly applicable to your practice (and, by the way, pays diddlysquat), when you could be getting firsthand experience drafting contracts and working on deals on Day 1? Plus, it’s not like businesspeople have a clue what the difference is between a law clerk and, you know… a rock.

The attorneys who had clerked, on the other hand, saw many potential benefits….

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If you took a poll in which you had to answer how good a lawyer you are, how would you rank yourself — below average, average, or above average? With the “illusory superiority” phenomenon at work, more than 50% of you would respond that you’re an above average lawyer. Now, you don’t have to be good at math to figure out that something’s not quite right here.

Because I care about my ATL readers, I’ve decided to make it my mission in this post to enlighten those of you below average lawyers as to your not-so-great-as-you-think-ness. The key to getting around illusory superiority is to not rely on your own fallible opinion of yourself. Instead, look to other more objective indications of your inferiority.

What are some signs that you may be a below average lawyer?

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I assumed that pretty much everyone had seen the music video by now — multiple times. Scores of news sites, including CNN, ABC, and the Huffington Post have written it up. There have been tons of positive responses from significant players in the entertainment industry (including T-Pain, who tweeted, “Words cannot even describe how amazing this video is…”). As of writing this article, it has over 170 million YouTube views, and is currently the number one downloaded music video on iTunes. Heck, they even did a “dance cam” of the video at Dodger Stadium and non-Koreans watching the game broke into the dorky-becomes-cool horse dance!

But I kept finding that friends, even people active in social media, hadn’t yet experienced the greatest music video ever (did I mention flash mobs in Australia?). I had thought that just because there was promotion, you know — everywhere — for it, the video was more broadly known than it actually was.

Promoting yourself at work can be similar. No, not celebrities tweeting your awesomeness or dance cams in the office conference room. What I’m talking about is that you may think that you’ve made your contributions at work obvious to those around you. But you may be surprised to find that they’re clueless about your efforts, just as I’m surprised to find that people around me haven’t yet heard about the Gangnam Style music video, which is after the jump….

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Q: What’s one way in which the non-lawyers at your company are just like law firm partners?

A: Each person cares almost exclusively about her own work and her own little universe. And expects you to do the same. There’s no reason why Finance, Customer Service, HR, and Marketing can’t all be the most important function in the company is there?

Business people don’t have much incentive to give you a lot of time to review or prepare a legal document or address an issue. Generally, the faster they’re able to close deals, offer new products and services, and complete projects, the more quickly the company will make money and they’ll get the pats on the back. It’s actually hard to blame them for wanting everything done ASAP. Heck, I’d be the same way if I were on the business side.

From a quality of work and life perspective, though, “ASAP” is a bad way for a lawyer to go about things. Work quality decreases while stress levels increase. To manage ASAP requests, try to distinguish between the types of requests and collaborate with the business folks to meet their needs….

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So you like being an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer. Wonder if M&A work is different in-house compared to private practice? It’s just slightly different. Like maybe about 90% slightly different.

If you’re an M&A lawyer at a firm, your main responsibilities on a deal will be to draft the purchase agreement and other documents, actually review all of the due diligence on the company to be acquired, advise on and negotiate various legal issues, and keep track of everything that needs to be signed, filed, and otherwise happen from a legal standpoint to “close the deal.” The other primary value that outside M&A counsel provide is to inform on what’s standard and market in M&A deals and arrangements. This all sounds like a lot. And it is.

But because the tasks required of outside counsel are pretty much “pure legal” items, they’re a fraction of the amount of work that needs to be done by the in-house M&A attorney, who gets to manage all of the above, plus much of the non- or pseudo-legal stuff that the rest of the company actually cares about…

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Last week, I wrote about how gossiping at the office can indicate that you’re in dire need of soft skills training or may be a pathetic, passive-aggressive coward. Or, more likely, both. After I submitted the post to ATL, David Lat (aka The Legal Gossipmonger Grandmaster) reminded me that hey, gossip can be positive too! The Grandmaster was absolutely right, of course, as my article had really only focused on the type of gossip where people whine and complain about their coworkers.

I thought, hmm, true — gossiping at work can definitely have a positive impact on you if you’re gaining information that will be useful to you on the job. Like finding out about which IT dude won’t treat you like the complete tech idiot that you are. Thanks to one of the commenters, I decided to dig a little further into what some of the other positive effects of gossip could be. And I was surprised by what I learned….

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So, OMG you seriously haven’t heard that Brittany likes Mark, but Mark likes Claire even though he’s flirting with Brittany? Yeah, Mark — the guy who’s so dumb that the last time he cheated on a test he still failed… I know right, he’s so hot!

High school gossip can cover many aspects of life. Sometimes the chatter is about school and tests. Sometimes it’s about who got invited to the cool parties and got sick on the street later. But most often, it’s about juicy dish. (Kind of like ATL, pimply puberty-style, except… hmm, never mind, it’s just like ATL.)

In-house gossip is thoroughly less satisfying. It’s more about who ticked off whom a couple of years ago, who’s slacking off and getting away with it when the rest of us can’t, and who could vie for the gold if kissing up to senior executives were an Olympic event. The juicy stuff that I used to get wind of once in a while from law firm peers seems rare in an in-house setting. Little did I realize that I was giving up such a quality of life factor when taking this job. People really need to give you a heads up about these things.

Seriously though, kids who gossip in high school are immature. But, well, that’s just about everybody in high school, so it’s all good. (The mature ones are the weirdos — avoid them like the plague, high school kiddies.) Gossiping at work, however, is viewed as less acceptable and is instead indicative of needed soft skills improvement…

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Last month, a group named Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) announced a study in which they identified eight qualities of successful legal executives. The study found that these accomplished folks exhibited greater levels of certain traits compared to your average Executive Joe Schmoe, Esq. The results, while informative, weren’t all that surprising. (It’s cool how hindsight works that way.) There were two traits, however, that RRA zeroed in on in their write-up of the study.

One was “excitability.” Successful legal executives got frazzled about 20% less than the average legal executive and even than the average non-legal executive. The gap in excitability was even wider between Successful GC and Not-Successful GC. So all of you lawyers who have a tendency to hyperventilate over every little fire drill can do yourselves a favor and think calm thoughts when you find that your prized pen has been moved from the right side of your desk to the left.

The other trait that RRA considered noteworthy is one they referred to as “mischievousness.” Their evaluation of mischievousness, however, is really just a brilliant scam….

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Based on questions that I’ve been getting during the past few months through this blog and elsewhere, I’m realizing that a lot of attorneys and attorneys-to-be who don’t know about some of the very basic characteristics of in-house legal work. Stuff that I forget isn’t necessarily obvious until after some time has passed (like how only after you’ve graduated from law school do you realize that in order to make a profit off your casebooks, you need to sell them before the next edition has been released — so basically within 20 minutes of purchasing them).

Instead of having to continue explaining the fundamentals of in-house work again and again to each of these people individually, I realized I can make use of this newfangled innovation called le blog for summarizing some of that basic information. That way, when people ask me all of those questions, I can just refer them here. It only took me ten months to figure this out. I am so SMRT.

So off we go. First, in-house hours and pay….

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