In-House Counsel

About a year ago, we brought our readers some stats on the Biglaw firms that were representing some of America’s biggest companies. While that information was interesting, it only covered firms that were currently involved in litigation on behalf of Fortune 100 companies, leaving all of the worthy dealmakers out in the cold. To make matters worse, we only knew which firms were in court the most frequently on behalf of corporate clients — we knew nothing about their success rates.

Now, we’ve got a list that general counsel will really be interested in — a list of the Biglaw firms that are the best of the best in terms of client service. Are you sick of your outside counsel giving you the runaround? Are you tired of receiving deliverables that are off the mark?

These are the firms that have been rated the “absolute best” by general counsel…

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The preferred methodology for phone threats.

* Bad boy! After last week’s dramatic bench performance by Justice Samuel Alito, the Alliance For Justice, a liberal watchdog group, is petitioning the Supreme Court to adopt and adhere to a code of conduct. [National Law Journal]

* There’s been a changing of the guard at the Supreme Court, where Scott Harris will be stepping into the role of Clerk of Court in September. Here’s hoping he can fill William Suter’s shoes. [Supreme Court of the United States]

* If you’re in-house and searching for the best outside counsel, you may be best served by going to one of these Biglaw firms. But which were the “absolute best”? Take a wild guess. [Corporate Counsel]

* “Let’s record this as a threat…” If you say so. Wherein a former Bryan Cave attorney gets federally indicted for threatening to murder a colleague still employed at the firm. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

* And just like that, the tide keeps on rolling. With the departure of Kenneth Randall, Alabama Law has appointed Professor William Brewbaker as acting dean until an interim dean is chosen. [AL.com]

Tomorrow, I’ll be going into a meeting with the folks from finance, and they’ll ask me: “How much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

[Note to accounting purists: We'll assume that we could reasonably win Smith, so liability is not probable.]

To be sure that I have the most informed opinion possible, I call outside counsel and cleverly ask: “How much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

And outside counsel starts the usual spiel:

“Life is full of surprises. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Litigation is like a black box; you never know what’s inside until you’ve opened it, and by then it’s unstoppable.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. “But how much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

“Well,” says outside counsel. . . .

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Driving to court this morning for a pro bono appearance, my Blackberry buzzed with the headline that DOMA had been struck down. Concurrently, the song “Fight the Good Fight” was playing on the radio. Indeed.

In France, there were violent protests in the streets when the issue was up for a vote. Here, some folks give a shrug and a “meh” to today’s news. Later, when the Court effectively struck down Prop 8, people in California began pilgrimages to their local courthouses or civic centers to look into getting married. It is indeed a great day to be an American….

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Here’s another story from real life (unless I’m making it up). The draft mediation statement starts with: “We sued them in Texas, and they sued us in Florida. Judges in both courts have now considered the issues.”

I write back, in my usual sensitive, caring way: “Any brief in the world could start with, ‘Somebody sued somebody'; that’s kind of the starting point for lawsuits. Because your opening sentence is entirely generic, it’s entirely unpersuasive. Please consider starting instead with: ‘BigCo hired three professional assassins to storm our world headquarters. During the assault, the assassins killed six of our employees, wounded four, and stole our trade secrets along the way.’ Having thus shown the mediator that we should win, we could then go on to note that we sued them in Texas, and they sued us in Florida, and judges in both courts have now considered the issues.”

Outside counsel writes back: “Perhaps you’d be right in some other case, but not in this one. We mediated this same case 18 months ago in front of the same mediator, so he already knows what our case is about. He doesn’t need any more of an introduction than my draft provides.”

What are the mistakes here? First, I’m the client. If I propose doing something idiotic, then stop me by any means necessary. But, in close calls, let me win; that’s called client service (and it’s what I did during the 25 years I spent in private practice). Second, this isn’t a close call. When I’m right and you’re wrong, let me win; that’s called intelligence. Third, and why I’ve set fingers to keyboard — you’ve made a mistake that I see repeatedly among lawyers: You think that people remember you . . . .

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I wrote last week about my participation on a statewide panel on in-house attorney registration and pro bono work. As stated, Chief Judge Lippman and Judge Graffeo of the New York Court of Appeals, are spearheading the effort to have all New York in-house counsel, who are not admitted in New York, register with the courts. The State Legislature has gone further and has passed legislation making it a felony to fail to so register. In other words, starting November 1 of this year, failure to register can get you a charge of unlicensed practice of law (“UPL”). The resulting comments to this news ranged from snarky to ignorant. My suggestion to those that this upsets would be to suck it up, because the times they are a-changing.

As attorneys admitted in New York, we knew what we were signing up for when we joined the Bar. Pro bono work is a duty, not something to be swept under the rug with a “too busy, sorry.” An estimated 2.3 million people going unrepresented in New York is not only sad, but unnecessary. And law firms can only pick up so much of the slack. They have their own issues with pro bono, but at least give lip service to attempting to assist. In-house counsel are an untapped reservoir of capable attorneys who can at least act as a drop in the bucket of a pool of folks in need of representation…

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Let’s assume for a moment that arithmetic is true.

This means that the average lawyer is average.

And average is actually pretty bad. (As one of my co-clerks said during the first week of a clerkship, reading a Ninth Circuit brief several decades ago: “This is great!”

“What? Is the brief good?”

“No! The brief is terrible. We are not gonna starve!”)

The average lawsuit thus pits Tweedledee against Tweedledum, and, sadly, they can’t both lose. After the verdict comes down, Tweedlewhoever boasts on his website of another great victory and yet more proof of his talent and expertise.

Twenty years later, what does that look like?

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That headline woke some of you up, I am sure. But don’t worry — keep reading for the details.

When a judge “requests” that you attend a function, or to represent an indigent client, or to work on a statewide task force, you don’t say no. Not only is it bad form to refuse such a request, accepting the invitation can get you a seat at a table full of people smarter than you, and might just allow you to have an impact on pending judiciary rules.

I met yesterday with a statewide task force on in-house attorney registration and pro bono work. Chief Judge Lippman and Judge Victoria Graffeo of the New York Court of Appeals are spearheading the effort to have all New York in-house counsel, who are not admitted in New York, register with the courts. The State Legislature has gone further and has passed legislation making it a felony to fail to so register. In other words, failure to register can get you a charge of unlicensed practice of law (“UPL”). The following is excerpted from correspondence with Judge Graffeo…

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We are pleased to invite you to an Above the Law cocktail reception in Chicago on Wednesday, June 12th. The reception will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 and will feature a conversation with Mark Herrmann. As many of you know, Mark is Vice President and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon, the world’s largest insurance broker. He is also a former partner at Jones Day, the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link), and a weekly columnist here at Above the Law.

This event will be an opportunity for attendees to hear insightful commentary from Mark, meet Above the Law writers, connect with peers, and enjoy great drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The event is sponsored by our friends at Access Data. Please RSVP below.

Years ago, I knew a lawyer who thought that business entertainment worked. He was a plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer: “I treat a doctor to a $50 lunch, and the next day he refers a case to me. I make one phone call and settle the case for $9,000, netting a $3,000 fee. And the doctor thinks we’re even! It’s unbelievable! I can’t eat enough lunches!”

Good for him. But does it work for anyone else?

I certainly treated clients to dinners and sporting events in my day, but none of those clients (or prospects) ever hired me in return for that entertainment. I didn’t expect them to, and I’d be terribly disappointed in them if they did. My having treated a guy to a dinner doesn’t make me the best lawyer to handle his case, and he’d be nuts to hire me because the caviar was beluga.

The reverse is also true. Lots of people want to meet me, buy me a meal, or take me to a cricket match (I’m now based in London, remember?) since I’ve gone in-house. A few of the folks who buy me lunch even follow up with e-mails expressing their unhappiness that I haven’t promptly retained them: “Was it something I said? Why haven’t I heard from you, other than the thank you note?”

It was nothing you said. But why should I possibly hire you simply because you bought me lunch?

I have my own theory about why firms create large “client entertainment” budgets . . .

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