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 SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

Posts by Susan Moon

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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Mentoring has its benefits. It’s been shown to increase productivity, retention, and job satisfaction. According to one article, individuals who have had mentors earned between $5,610 and $22,450 more annually than those who haven’t had mentors. Multiply that by 30 years, and based on my lightning-speed calculations, that’s… ummm… a LOT of extra income. Those numbers are from several years ago, so my guess is that the riches we could be rolling in are even greater now, assuming that mentoring programs have become more sophisticated over the years.

Despite the purported benefits of mentoring, many people who’ve participated in mentoring programs just aren’t fans. I’ve been forced to volunteered to participate in a few different mentoring programs through work and various bar associations, and have had varying degrees of success. Generally, for the mentoring relationships that have been less successful, it’s been difficult to connect with the other person — we didn’t meet very often or when we did meet, the conversations were kind of strained (picture awkward pauses, sitting in silence, and blinking at each other for ten hours, that sort of thing).

How about the ones that were more successful…?

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I thought it might be fun to try something different for this week’s post. A lot of people post top ten lists to give some semblance of organization to an otherwise random set of ideas, so I thought, “Well heck, we, too, can play at that game!” Thus, a top ten list was conceived for things that make us think, “Toto, we’re not in Biglaw anymore.”

That being said, You Know You Work In-House If….

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In last week’s installment of Moonlighting, we looked into the challenges of just planning a global meeting. This post will continue the theme by examining particular practical issues that arise during global meetings.

The first few minutes of most meetings are passed waiting for people to join, whether in person or on a call. Those who’ve joined early on typically engage in casual social banter to avoid the awkward silence. But on a global call, you need to be careful as nothing says “you’re not an American company” like banter that leads with, “Say, how ‘bout those Knicks?”

Then what should you talk about — world events? Perhaps, assuming you can talk about them without offending anyone (avoid discussing the madness in Western Europe). Safer, but admittedly boring, topics are weather and vacations. And of course, be wary throughout the call of using American business jargon like “get our ducks in a row,” “circle back,” etc. These are best accompanied by a clear explanation of what the idioms mean: “As we say in America, let’s circle back when we have all our ducks in a row. This just means that we’ll give each other a heads up when we’ve got our house in order.” Wait… not that….

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Companies are doing more business internationally and dragging their lawyers along with them. As you can imagine, doing international work has obvious challenges — foreign law, culture and language, time zone issues, cardboard that airlines call “food,” etc. These next couple of Moonlighting posts are going to delve into some of the nitty gritty of practicing in a global arena by examining one very basic, but essential, part of the in-house practice that I’ve discussed before — a meeting.

But first, a clarification of terms. People often use the terms “international” and “global” interchangeably. However, in-house lawyers who practice in these areas may disagree. Assuming the terms are used by Americans, an “international” U.S. business refers to a business that is headquartered in the United States and operates individual businesses in other countries that focus on the market in each of those countries. In this structure, each business in each country focuses on its own business and does not often coordinate with the others — communicating primarily with the U.S. headquarters in a hub and spoke kind of structure.

On the other hand, a “global” U.S. business is one that’s headquartered in the United States and builds businesses in other countries that focus on how the market in those countries could support cross-border business growth. In the global model, businesses in the other countries often work directly with each other. For the sake of simplicity though, I’ll use the term “global” for the rest of this post to refer to both international and global work. Now that you’re sufficiently confused, we can move on….

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Generally, when in-house lawyers transition from a law firm to a company, the amount they work decreases, with some exceptions. The particular number of hours depends upon the company and the industry, but it’s usually about 9-5 or 9-6, and increases as you gain seniority. (Unless you come from money and you’re “employed” in the family business, in which case you haven’t worked a day in your life, and never will.)

Often flexible arrangements are available, such as shifting working hours to 7-4 or 10-6, or working from home one or more days a week. These flex-time arrangements are particularly useful to lawyers who have many other obligations outside of work, such as learning new pole-dancing routines.

What about facetime — do in-house lawyers deal with facetime issues? By “facetime,” I mean simply the amount of time spent in the office, whether that time is used to do work or not. In-house lawyers certainly do encounter facetime issues — let’s face it, all lawyers do. (Get it…?)

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You’ve probably heard the same advice as I have about participating in meetings — speak up at least once during every meeting. Otherwise, people will wonder why you’re even there — are you engaged in the discussion? Do you even understand what’s going on? Are you nursing a hangover again? What’s the deal?

Now, some of you have absolutely no problem speaking up at meetings. In fact, maybe you’re a little too “good” at it. This post isn’t for you. For those of you who don’t realize you babble on too much in meetings, there will be a different post dedicated to the likes of you, entitled: “When Everyone in the Room Has Ceased Making Eye Contact with You, It’s Time to Shut Up.”

Others of you are shy about speaking up in larger groups, especially in front of a lot of senior people. You feel pressured to come up with something brilliant, and often end up not saying anything at all because you don’t think your ideas are worthy of public utterance. Or sometimes, you really can’t seem to think of anything to contribute….

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