In-House Counsel

Some years ago, information technology and research firms realized that they could thrive only by attracting and retaining employees with two very different skill sets. These firms needed both great scientists and great managers.

Great scientists, however, were being undervalued, while great managers were being given too much dignity. In many corporations, the more people under your supervision, the more authority, respect and, often, pay you command. How could IT firms keep pure scientists — who loved thinking great thoughts and creating great inventions, but loathed managing people — happy? Wouldn’t those folks become frustrated as they saw their peers — less able scientists, but great managers — move ahead in the ranks?

Those firms pioneered the idea of creating dual career paths. One path was the standard route to success: Manage people; control a P&L center; prosper.

But the second path was the innovative one: Lead specified projects; work with key clients; generate new ideas; prosper equally!

After the IT firms blazed that trail, sales organizations soon followed suit. Those outfits needed both great sales people and great administrators. So they created dual career paths, offering routes for advancement (and power, and riches, and corner offices, and all the rest) to both types of people.

Isn’t an analogous dual-career-path model worth considering, both at law firms and in-house law departments?

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It is that time of year when the treacle runs thick. Nostalgia can lead to the blues that can lead to a bout at P.J. Clarke’s that leads to a pounding head in the morning. Conversely, some of you are full bore into booking hours for end of year bonuses and have no time for such shenanigans. Then there are the lucky among us who are given money simply for having jobs — starting with Cravathians and the imitator firms. If you are one of those, good on you; there is no bitterness here — envy, perhaps — but not bitterness.

As I began to outline this week’s column I was alerted to some truly distressing news: Dave Brubeck has died at 91. If you had the pleasure, as I did, of hearing Mr. Brubeck in person, you were touched by the presence of an American treasure and true musical genius. Even if you’re not familiar with Brubeck’s music, his signature piece, “Take Five,” would likely be instantly recognizable. Brubeck was an inspiration for his artistry, yet was a self-effacing and quiet individual. When I was fortunate enough to see him perform, he ambled ever so slowly to the microphone to say a few words. One was concerned the man would topple over given the frail nature of his shuffling. After saying a few words, he’d shuffle back to his piano stool and the power of some greater being would generate through his fingers. He seemed like a man that you would wish for in a grandfather. Of course, news broke today that Charles Schulz had an ongoing affair, but I digress.

The point is that there are some folks who just exist on a different plane from the rest of us, and whom, for better or worse, we treat as heroes. The same can be said of several attorneys in my career. I am certain that each reader could submit their own list of attorneys who have mentored, assisted, helped up, or just been there for us as young bucks as we made our way through the profession….

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I reported back in October that the New York Times had asked me to write an op-ed piece about the future of big law firms, but a Dealbook special unceremoniously preempted my piece.

I figured the editor at the NYT might think she owed me one, so I cranked out a replacement piece proposing to reform legal education. I’m pleased to report that this op-ed piece was not preempted! No, no, no: It was rejected on the merits. The editor said that my article made too many points and felt like a “report, rather than an opinion piece.”

But she was wrong. And, in any event, you should judge for yourself.

So here’s my recently rejected op-ed piece proposing how we should reform legal education. (I do believe this is the last in my short-lived series of “crap I wrote for the Times that the Times didn’t publish.” It’s an awful lot of work to produce 1,200-word pieces that become mere fodder for another column here at Inside Straight.) . . .

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Ed. note: This is the tenth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.

For many lawyers looking to leave the law firm or explore other legal careers, in-house counsel often arises as a favorite option. Some of these attorneys want to be happy in their job. Others want a job that is anywhere but the firm. Others like the idea of fewer hours and a flexible schedule. And still others are attracted to expanding their responsibilities and broadening their business exposure.

This article explores just what it takes to be an in-house attorney, the expectations and demands of the role, and the potential career paths. While these positions are often coveted and hard to get, it takes critical analysis (of one’s personal skills and the job’s duties) to ensure that this role could be the answer to an attorney’s job hunting prayers.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ahh, on the cusp of December. A month that brings another full year to a close with annoyingly cheery carols overtaking radio stations, multi-colored lights and decorations dredged up from years past, and an excuse to fill up on a week’s worth of heavy food in one sitting because, after all… it’s family time.

As December settles into the workplace, law firm associates and their non-equity partner peers are scrambling to confirm that they’ll meet their billable hour targets for the year. And partners are scrambling to get all of their outstanding receivables paid up by the end of the month. After all, the more money they can get into the firm’s accounts by year’s end, the better their bonuses will be in the spring. All of the lawyers are hoping that they’ll get an end of year break with little work to do over the holiday week. ‘Tis the season for hope.

And of course, associates are anxiously awaiting news — any news — about firms’ bonuses. How did lawyers ever manage in the dark days without ATL’s Bonus Watch?

For the in-house lawyer, December is also a month like none other….

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* Wait, did other people know this Casey Anthony movie was happening and not tell me? With Rob Lowe? How much would you pay to get drunk and watch it with Nancy Grace? [Lifetime]

* In America, poorly parked cars get tickets. In Soviet Russia, poorly parked cars get douches. [Legal Blog Watch]

* Sometimes you can evade consequences associated with evading taxes, and sometimes you can’t. [Going Concern]

* The George Zimmerman defense fund seems to be alive and well… unlike Trayvon Martin. [NPR]

* I feel like it would be great if the NFL took marijuana off of its banned substance list. It’s not like the drug is performance enhancing. [The Nation]

* A leading organization for in-house lawyers weighs in against the sanctions imposed on TD Bank. [Association of Corporate Counsel]

* Don’t forget to add your résumé to the flood for our open positions on Above the Law. At this point, you might want to send a picture to get our attention. Not of yourself, but you know, Twinkies, peep-toed shoes, something that we actually care about. [Above the Law]

You really don’t want to be sued in a corrupt, backwater swamp.

No, no! I don’t mean Louisiana! I mean a truly corrupt backwater swamp like, say, Sudan.

(I pick Sudan because it’s subject to sanctions by most first-world countries, so I don’t have to worry about someday being dragged before a Sudanese judge who isn’t tickled by my having called his country a “corrupt, backwater swamp.” I may well pay a price for having tarred Louisiana with that label, but my opening two sentences just wouldn’t have been funny if I hadn’t named a specific state. I’ll have to hope that judges in Louisiana have a sense of humor.)

You get sued in Sudan. You hire Sudanese counsel. You probe him about Sudanese substantive law, Sudanese procedure, and whether the Sudanese judicial system can be trusted. He answers your questions about corruption with vague assurances about how he’s a pretty well-connected lawyer, and most judges aren’t too bad, and corruption isn’t quite as rampant as outsiders seem to think. Then he goes on to explaining how he’ll defend your lawsuit.

That advice may be okay as far as it goes, but it’s missing the global perspective. Here’s one place where in-house lawyers — and sophisticated outside counsel — can add real value in litigation….

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It is that time of year when “A Christmas Story” begins to play on the endless loop left vacant by the old WPIX yule log. The scene I refer to is when Scut Farkus tortures Flick by turning his arm behind his back and forcing him to say “uncle” until Scut and his yellow eyes have had enough. Then he and his toady, Grover Dill, retreat back under the rocks from whence they came.

The Scut Farkuses of the in-house world are thankfully very few and even farther between. Usually, there is at least a façade of collegiality between different counsels representing their respective companies. Sometimes, this collegiality becomes real, and drinks are shared as deals are closed. But, yes, Virginia, there is a Scut Farkus Society.

They are the barely competent; just enough to be dangerous, and they usually somehow hit the lottery and work at uber-corporations whose money we as a company desire. As a vendor attorney, there is always a bit of kowtowing to the purchaser. Sometimes it’s a cultural necessity, but more often than not, it is a factor of needing the business. But everyone has a breaking point, yes, even me….

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I’ve been living in London for almost three months now, so it’s time to declare myself a native. What do natives know about the City?

First: Dryer technology is apparently too tricky for this country. Listen, chaps: A dryer is supposed to dry your clothes.

These folks don’t get it. They’ve invented a washer/dryer thingy: You put your clothes in the machine, press some buttons, and the machine washes your clothes. Without moving your clothes, you then push some more buttons, and the machine spins and makes some noise. At the end of the so-called “dry cycle,” you remove your clothes from the washer/dryer thingy and hang your clothes in the living room to dry.

The United Kingdom is one of eight countries in the world that has successfully detonated a nuclear weapon, but these boys can’t crack dryer technology? What’s up with that?

Hey, maybe that’s an answer! Nuke the friggin’ clothes! They might come out a tad radioactive, but at least they’d be dry, and they wouldn’t be hanging in my living room. Or maybe you could import some dryers from the United States: We’ve got a bunch that work, and we could use the export business.

But dryers are the least of it . . . .

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Foraging: it’s not just for grizzly bears.

Last week, in the inaugural installment of our Career Alternatives video series with our friends at Bloomberg Law, we brought you the story of Lisa Granik, a lawyer turned “Master of Wine.” She’s living the dream, drinking and thinking and writing about wine for a living.

Well, how would you like some food to go with your wine? Today’s career alternative for attorneys: forager.

Forager? Does ordering something on Seamless count? Is Tristan Taylor Thomas looking for food in the trash again?

No, no. This foraged food gets eaten at one of America’s most acclaimed restaurants, by folks who pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege. And the forager, who graduated from a top law school, walked away from a high-powered legal career….

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