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

Elevator speeches aren’t just for elevators anymore. I mean, when’s the last time you’ve actually used one in an elevator? And not afterwards gotten a look that said, “Please, can’t you see that I’m pretending to be really interested in what’s on that teeny tiny news screen up there?”

It’s rare to hear a good elevator speech these days, even if it’s just the two of you in that little box with no TV screen available for refuge. (Thank goodness for iPhones.) Here are some of the typical speeches I hear: “I do commercial litigation at Biglaw firm.” “I work at a mid-sized hedge fund in New York.” “I’m interning at Attorney General’s office this summer at the division of civil rights.”

These are just the short versions. The longer versions aren’t much better. They’re just longer (guess whose this one is…): “I work at a travel and hospitality company doing general transactional work, such as commercial contracts, M&A, business development, and advertising and social media.” Yawn….

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Companies don’t typically hire law students. The greatest concern that companies have about hiring law school graduates is training. In-house legal departments don’t want to have train new lawyers, and prefer that law firms take the effort to pass on the needed skills before we go ahead and pinch some of their best associates.

That said, there are certainly several examples of companies that have successfully decided that it’s a good thing to hire counsel who know virtually nothing about practicing law. In this post, I’ll examine some of the pros and cons of hiring newbie lawyers versus law firm trained, not-so-newbies for entry-level in-house positions.

For the first issue at hand, what is this magical “training” that law firms are so good at providing…?

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In light of some perspectives on women’s fashion that have crossed Above the Law recently (and because I like to beat horses until I’m absolutely sure they’re good and dead), I’d like share a few thoughts. When it comes to what to wear at the workplace, most of us women agree that women should dress professionally. And most of us know what dressing professionally generally looks like, even if not everything is perfectly laid out.

However, there is this “small” issue that there are still too many sexist job interviewers out there who expect women to go beyond just dressing professionally, and demand that we dress in a way that they consider feminine and appropriate for a woman.

Now, some women are perfectly comfortable wearing skirts and heels, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Other women suspect that such items are the devil’s handiwork. In any case, most women aren’t happy when other people dictate how any of us dress in the workplace, so long as we’re meeting the basic standards of professionalism. After all, it’s a rare occasion that men at the office are judged for not dressing in more masculine attire….

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When I tell people that I really love my job, I get various responses. Most of them are something like, “Wow, that’s great,” or “I hate you.” Or sometimes, “That’s very nice, ma’am. May I take your order now, please?” When people ask why I love my job, my response is kind of lame. I tend to say it’s a lot of “fun” and then go on to describe a couple of types of matters I work on. Yeah, not all that insightful.

So for this week’s post, I decided to figure out more specifically (than “umm, so…the social media thing is interesting…”) why a lawyer may love her job. The reasons I came up with are mostly common sense and one reason actually has nothing to do with my job per se….

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If you’re like me, you’re happily ensconced (hmm, where have I seen that before…?) in your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Your company may have a Diversity Committee in place and may have implemented diverse hiring and retention practices. They may hold trainings and events intended to promote awareness. Your legal department may even encourage outside counsel to staff minority and women attorneys on matters. All good stuff.

What else is there? Last week, I attended a day-long regional meeting for a fantastic nonprofit diversity organization. Although the fees to attend their conferences and meetings (which include CLE) are hundreds of dollars, in-house counsel get to attend them for free. You just need to pay a $59 shipping and handling fee. Wait, scratch that last part. (Been watching way too many infomercials lately.)

So, which organization was this, and what great tips did I leave with on how in-house counsel can further their companies’ diversity initiatives?

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I had mentioned a while ago in my very first ATL post that some of my work involves marketing. Well, some of that marketing involves social media. As the main social media lawyer for my business unit, I work with our strategic teams to figure out how to make the best use of social media technologies (e.g., Facebook, Youtube, blogs, smartphone apps, etc.). All within 140 characters at a time.

What’s it like? As lawyerly work goes, it’s fast-paced and feels kind of risky and cutting-edge. Kind of like Mission Impossible. You know, like if the movie had a lawyer character whose job it was to make sure that the Tom Cruise character signed a waiver every time he got a pack of explosive chewing gum. Really, even non-lawyers think this social media lawyering work is cool. Granted, the non-lawyers I’m talking about are sixty-year-old gamers who live at home with their mothers. But still!

There isn’t really a standalone body of “social media law,” so a lawyer who covers this area ends up being a sort of jack of few trades. Instead, law in social media involves work which falls into the following basic categories….

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One day it will happen to you. Whether you’re at a firm or in government or in-house, there will come a time when someone in your workplace will get a promotion who doesn’t deserve it. And unfortunately, we’re not talking about you. This person may a poor communicator, a terrible manager, or maybe just kind of a jerk to work with. But one day, it will happen. And when you receive news of the promotion, your mouth will drop in disbelief and you will shake your fist at the heavens, crying, “Why, wretched office gods, why….?!”

Is it the Peter Principle at play? This is a fascinating theory suggesting that employees keep getting promoted until they reach the levels at which they’re incompetent. Once an employee reaches the first level of professional incompetence, the promotions stop. Now imagine this happens with every employee. Basically, the only way to move up levels is to go over to another organization that’s unaware of your incompetence and hopes in vain that you’re more competent than whomever they’ve got over there.

Or maybe it’s the effect of the Dilbert Principle. Cubicle guru Scott Adams proposed that the least competent people in a company tend to get promoted to higher levels because companies need the smarter, skilled employees to do the actual work. Instead, the less-skilled incompetents are moved up to levels where they perform tasks that less vital to production, such as demanding that their underlings perform their real work harder, faster, and better. Picture Michael Scott of The Office. Only not so smart.

These principles were originally proposed as satire, although they sound kind of compelling, don’t they? But perhaps there’s something more sinister at play. Something darker…like we’re failing…to understand the entire picture. (*Thunder boom and lightning crash.*)

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At large law firms, unless you’re interviewing for a small practice group, nobody’s losing sleep over whether you’ll fit in. They’ll take you so long as you’re smart, willing to work crazy hours, and not obviously a jerk. (Although if you’re a rainmaker jerk, they can’t seem to roll out the red carpet to the corner office quickly enough.)

You’ll tend hear the concern about the “right fit” voiced more often for in-house than Biglaw job openings. When you interview for an in-house position, your technical and substantive abilities certainly need to pass the bar (every possible pun intended). But after that, there’s a broad and maddeningly vague analysis regarding how good a “fit” you are….

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If you’re an attorney in a mid-sized or large law firm, the phrase “people manager” means as much to you as the phrase “spring bonuses” means to me (both of which situations are exceedingly unfortunate). You’re lucky to receive support from a group of under-appreciated administrative assistants, paralegals, and attorneys junior to you. The group supports other attorneys besides you, and in an ideal world, each such attorney would take efforts to manage and train the group.

But, since such things as Dewey puns exist, we obviously aren’t living in an ideal world. In this stark reality of pink slime and the Socratic method, what usually happens in a shared support situation is that some attorneys take the time to train the support group, and others don’t.

Here’s the thing. The attorneys who invest the energy to train the group members don’t end up reaping the full benefits of their investment. This is because the employees they’ve specially trained spend an annoying amount of time engaging in behaviors like supporting other attorneys. So the lazy lawyers at the firm receive an “unjust enrichment” of sorts — they gain the benefits of working with skilled employees, yet they haven’t expended any effort to impart those skills. In fact, the more you spend time training someone, the more likely it is that others will seek that person’s assistance, and that you’ll need to compete for the employee’s support. “D’oh!” would pretty much capture the appropriate response….

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Business relationships are kind of like marriages. In the beginning, everyone’s excited, and life is fresh and full of promise. “Things are really going to change around here,” you think. You know that you’re going to need to make some adjustments, some compromises, but it’s all going to be worth it. You ignore small warning signs, such as the fact that your partner sometimes seems to spend a lot on discretionary items. (But at least he only bought nine pairs of Prada shoes during the trip to Italy instead of the 23 he really wanted.)

Then, as you settle into a routine, you may find that, well… things aren’t exactly as you had expected. There are minor annoyances — things that make working together take more time, communication, and effort than you had thought.

And unfortunately, like some marriages, one or more parties figure out that the benefits of the relationship don’t outweigh the negatives, and decide to part ways. You decide that 18,000 pairs of designer shoes is definitely an indication of a problem. Sometimes, the decision to separate is fairly mutual. Other times, one partner is desperately clawing out from under a pile of fancy footwear that the other only continues to build up.

Also like many marriages, at the start of the business relationship, nobody wants to think about how it will end. Ninety-nine percent of engaged couples won’t touch a prenuptial agreement with a ten-foot pole because they absolutely KNOW that they’re truly in love, and no way are they in the group of the more than 50% of married couples who will part before death.

Similarly, nobody likes to think about the business “prenup” (i.e., the termination/transition provisions in a contract) for more than a few microseconds. For example, there’s the uber-lazy version of a catchall survival provision that makes it into some contracts. It basically says as follows: “Everything in this agreement that’s intended to survive termination will survive”….

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