In-House Counsel

Ted Ullyot

* Given the name and origins of the Tea Party movement, it actually makes perfect sense that their groups got grief from the IRS. [Washington Post]

* Wachtell Lipton weighs in against the practice of shareholder activists offering special compensation to director nominees. [Dealbook / New York Times]

* A law professor, Joshua Silverstein, argues that schools should embrace grade inflation. (But haven’t most of them done this already?) [WSJ Law Blog]

* Facebook shareholders might not “like” this news, but Ted Ullyot plans to step down as general counsel after about five years. We’ll have more on this later. [Corporate Counsel]

* The Brooklyn DA’s office is reopening 50 murder cases that were worked on by retired detective Louis Scarcella (who looks oh-so-savory in the NYT’s photo of him). [New York Times]

* In news that should shock no one, Nicholas Speath’s dubious discrimination case against Georgetown Law has been dismissed. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* Not long after leaving Cravath for Kirkland, Sarkis Jebejian is putting together billion-dollar deals for private-equity clients. [Am Law Daily]

* Professor Jeffrey Rosen reviews an interesting new book, The Federalist Society (affiliate link), authored by Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin. [New York Times]

The legal profession has changed greatly over the almost seven years since the launch of Above the Law. Do these changes amount to a paradigm shift? Or are they just a temporary blip that will eventually be reversed?

Professor David Wilkins, Director of the Program on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, is one of the most astute and well-informed observers of law as both a profession and an industry. In his recent keynote at the NALP annual education conference, Professor Wilkins considered these questions, and also shared his predictions about the future of the legal profession….

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“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t…. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech.

I am usually late to appreciate great things – i.e., the Grateful Dead, foreign cinema, red high top Reeboks (trust me, they were a “thing,” unfortunate, but still) and David Foster Wallace. I often write such things off as “fads” only to realize later in life, when I have yet again matured a bit, that I was missing out due to my own prejudices or some other ignorant trait. I came across the above speech and a fairly cool video on gawker.com today. I had heard of Wallace and written him off, not wanting to conform to a mob mentality of greatness aimed in his direction. But, after truly listening to his words, and allowing them to touch me, I did a bit of research. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled that he had committed suicide, and upon further review, it was largely due to severe depression. Then, I came upon Elie’s piece regarding the T6 candidate with Asperger’s…

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First, an offer: I thought I had retired my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law when I moved to London last fall. But I’ll be in the States for a few weeks in late May and June, and I’ve been asked to dust off the talk and give it a few times — at the annual meeting of the Association of Defense Trial Counsel in Detroit, and again in Chicago for Kirkland & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig. So long as I’ll have to flip through my notes and re-learn the talk, I might as well give it for your group, too. Please let me know by email if your law firm is interested.

Second, today’s thesis — and it’s a backwards one: Law firms think more highly of you for the years when you’re not working at the firm.

I’ll start with the easy example: I moved as a sixth-year associate from a small firm in San Francisco to a huge firm in Cleveland. When I arrived at the huge firm in Cleveland, partners treated me surprisingly well. Why?

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Just outside the window: marble statues of Roman goddesses.

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful Swedish woman. She came to the United States and studied at an elite college and top law school. After graduation, she went to work at Davis Polk — which is where all the beautiful people work.

While at Davis Polk, this blonde beauty met her Prince Charming — an older, extremely successful M&A partner. They got married at a Caribbean resort, and their wedding made the pages of the New York Times (of course). A few years later, she left the firm to become the general counsel to a global investment bank. Unlike many other power couples, they remain married to this day.

Fairy tales can come true. Let’s learn about a remarkable couple, then ogle their castle in the clouds….

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* “It’s a fine line society walks in trying to be fair.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke earlier this week on the perils of racial profiling with respect to the Chechen suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. Were we fair here? [Associated Press]

* What keeps in-house counsel awake at night — aside from the tremendous piles of money they’re rolling around in? Apparently they’re expecting an “onslaught” of food labeling and data breach class actions. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Susan Westerberg Prager, known for being the longest-serving dean ever at UCLA School of Law, will take up the deanship at another illustrious institution, Southwestern Law School. [National Law Journal]

* The February results for the New York bar exam are out, and with the highest number of test-takers ever, the pass rate was brutal. We may have more on this later. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Rhode Island just got a little more fabulous. The Ocean State legalized gay marriage yesterday, making it the tenth state to do so, and uniting New England in marriage equality for all. [Bloomberg]

* Back in December, we told you about an alleged “well-dressed” groper — an unemployed lawyer, as it were. Well, now there’s nothing alleged about it, because that guy just pleaded guilty. [New York Post]

Some time ago there was an attorney up for United States Attorney General, I believe, and she got stung for having hired illegal aliens as nanny and chauffeur for which she paid no taxes. She had to withdraw from consideration and was fairly embarrassed by the whole fiasco. So was the Clinton Administration. Then, a federal judicial nominee was hit with the same charges – though her employment of the nanny in question was legal at the time it occurred, the court of public opinion ruled the day. I bring up these two examples of ethical dilemmas that lawyers can find themselves in and how relatively easy they are to avoid…

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Although I won’t name names here (because my employer is, among other things, the insurance broker to the stars, and I can’t afford to offend clients or potential clients), I just stumbled across an article that indirectly told me how to pick outside counsel.

In a relatively high-profile situation, a government entity recently had to retain an outside law firm. The government naturally retained an outside adviser to help the government make its choice. (How else could one possibly pick counsel?)

The outside adviser — I think you’d call the outfit a management consultant, although the website left me a little confused — has lots of MBAs on staff, but there’s not a lawyer to be seen. No matter: The MBAs created a questionnaire for the law firms to fill out, and the law firm that accumulated the most points won the business.

This is great! It’s time (once again) for me to stop thinking and start copying! We’ll revamp our whole system for choosing counsel! In the future, we’ll give the law firms who want our business a form to complete. We’ll add up the points — even I can do that. And then we’ll choose the law firm with the most points, thus retaining the best firm in the world to handle our matter through an objectively defensible selection process, in case anyone ever wants to second-guess our choice of counsel.

Shoot! If only I’d gone to business school, I could have been this smart! Let’s take a look at the questionnaire, so I’ll know the form that I’m copying to choose counsel for my next case . . . .

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In the Mob, you know a guy is done for when he is asked to “take a ride.” In Biglaw, it’s when the practice group leader asks you to have a drink after work. In-house is different — there is an announcement of restructuring, there is a rumor cycle of what department is getting hit, then there is a waiting period to see which people “take a package” voluntarily, and then the other shoe falls.

It can be unnerving to see people escorted out of an office with a box or two in hand and a security officer following behind. It is scary how quickly a person gets “wiped” from the intranet. They were there this morning, and a few hours later, all email bounces back. Since you are not a manager, you won’t know until there is a knock at your door.

I remember the first time I saw this occur. I was scared out of my mind at the news of “layoffs.” I visited a senior colleague who talked me out of the tree — she had been through too may of these to count and was nonchalant. First, there is nothing you can do if the decision has been made, and second, a bigger corporation means the odds are ever in your favor. Since that first experience, I have taken the advice to heart, but have also taken steps to ensure I can exit as smoothly as possible if the unfortunate ever happens….

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, there’s a good chance you’re seeking a way out. You don’t know what you want to do next, but the status quo is insupportable. That’s the standard set-up.

If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, we’ll likely talk about the challenges ahead. Trapped in the bathysphere of Biglaw, it’s hard to see out, let alone get out. You’ve heard rumors about human beings who enjoy their jobs. In your experience, big firm attorneys loathe their chosen profession the way other people breathe air….

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