In-House Counsel

I love personality tests. They serve numerous good and constructive purposes. And by “good and constructive,” I mean shamefully entertaining, such has finding out about the best ways to totally annoy your co-workers and how to play crazy mind games with them — core skills that you need to develop to perform effectively on the job.

So when a friend of mine pointed me to an article on personality tests titled The Unique Psychological World of Lawyers, I was intrigued. It’s an older article and a bit on the dry side (at least compared to some of the off-the-wall stuff you can find here on ATL), but the some of the observations and conclusions made in the article about lawyers’ personalities are extremely compelling….

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The “talent management” folks are so different from lawyers.

Lawyers (at big firms, anyway) ask junior lawyers to do things and, ten years later, look to see who survived.

Talent management people couldn’t be different. They assess individuals and groups to try to find ways to improve performance. “O brave new world that has such people in’t!”

But when the talent management folks turn their sights on me, I realize that I have a split personality.

I (and everyone on my compliance team) recently took the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument. This puppy repeatedly asks which of two ways you would choose to resolve a conflict. After you make 30 of those choices, a computer spits out the “conflict-handling mode” that you prefer. The five conflict-handling modes are “competing,” “collaborating,” “compromising,” “avoiding,” and “accommodating.”

This test revealed my underlying split personality before I even learned the results. As to virtually every one of the 30 choices I was asked to make, my answer depends on the circumstances. When representing a party in litigation, I’m often a “compromiser”: He demands 100; I offer 10. He drops to 90; I go to 20. He wants six months to trial; I offer 24. On most subjects, litigants have equal power, and no one wants to be blamed for bothering the judge, so we compromise. According to Thomas-Kilman, I’m a “compromiser.”

But that’s just one of my many personalities. Suppose I’m not representing a party in litigation, but rather “negotiating” with one of my own clients. Goodbye “compromiser,” and hello….

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When my first son was born we happened to live next door to one of the cameramen for Law and Order. The original Law and Order, not “Law and Order: Poughkeepsie” or whatever.

Anyway, if you live or practice in New York City you have undoubtedly run into an active L&O set, as they film exterior shots on location as much as possible for more realism. One of the sets happened to be down the road from our house and David invited me, my wife, and son to visit. I will always remember the great Jerry Orbach and Jesse Martin being completely unassuming nice guys as they cooed over my little boy. It was a real treat.

The point to this anecdote is that I overheard someone say that a small table immediately behind me needed to be moved a few inches before the next shot. As I reached down to slide the table, David sharply whispered to me not to touch it, as “it was a union job” and one of “them” had to move the piece. I had to laugh, as it was foreign to me that someone had a designated job of table-moving. But, as I moved through Biglaw, I became aware that the same mindset applied to associates as well as partners – unless there was money to be made from a new matter, then a Labor partner could transform into a Patent partner in the blink of an eye….

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Quick! Grab that piece of paper in front of you!

Draw three circles, along the lines of a Venn diagram.

One circle represents the past; one represents the present; and one represents the future. Your three circles should show the relationship between past, present, and future.

People from different cultures tend to draw those circles very differently, and I’ll explain your cultural bias after the jump.

Why am I writing about this? Because my corporate law department recently held its global law conference, at which all of our lawyers from around the world gathered in one place for two days of meetings. (February in Chicago! Who could resist?) We’re quite an international group, and we invited a speaker (from one of our businesses, which consults on talent management issues) to talk to us about working on cross-cultural teams.

This is just the sort of touchy-feely stuff that I typically can’t bear, but this guy was actually pretty interesting. He both revealed the cultural biases of people within our group and gave some suggestions about how to work together more effectively in the future.

I’ve now stalled for long enough. If you’ve drawn your three circles representing past, present, and future, you’re allowed to click through the jump and learn about your cultural prejudices….

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Some of you might be old enough to recall the “comedian” from the mid-80’s who went by the moniker of Yahoo Serious. He had a nominal hit movie and his career died out soon after. He even tried to collect from Yahoo! for trademark infringement — yeah. Anyway, when learning the news of Marissa Miller’s recent edict (she’s the one with a nursery in her office) that Yahoo!’s telecommuting is about to end, my initial thought was, are they serious?

Now, I don’t know Tom Wallerstein — I know for sure I am no Tom Wallerstein in the writing department — but I will take on this issue of working from home, and its benefits.

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Before law school, I considered myself a pretty detail-oriented person, especially when it came to writing. After entering law school, I was dismayed to find myself to be unimpressively average in a group where just about everyone was anal about typos, grammar, spelling, etc. Then I spent a summer at a large law firm and was appalled to discover that in this environment, my technical abilities were best described as a meager “below average.”

A few years at large law firms set my anal retentiveness straight. I counted two spaces after a period (in the olden days when everyone seemed to agree it was the right thing to do); made sure semicolons, not commas, followed every colon; and ensured absolute consistency in underlining or bolding definitions. After a few years, I became satisfied that I had reached a black-belt level of ability to churn out a technically perfect document.

Then, I went in-house….

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Aside from the daily challenges associated with sustaining or exceeding gross revenue year after year, Biglaw partners are probably most worried about their firm’s brand. After all, a brand is something that will keep clients coming back, and usher in new and exciting business opportunities.

But with so many firms to choose from, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which one is on top when it comes to being the most well-known of the bunch, regardless of what their Am Law or Vault 100 ranks might tell you. What matters most is obviously what the clients think.

Of course, there’s now a ranking to determine which firm has the strongest brand in the business….

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Let me regale you with two recent examples of lawyers disclosing client confidences. There’s a lesson tucked into each.

First: An acquaintance sent me the résumé of, and asked me to speak to, a young lawyer. The idea was to give some general career advice, rather than necessarily to hire the person.

I’m a pushover, so I agreed to have a cup of coffee with the relatively new lawyer. Over coffee, he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) explained that what he liked least about the job he’d just left (which was identified on his résumé) was being asked to do unethical things. My curiosity piqued, I asked for an example. He explained that he’d been asked to draft a contract that committed his employer to violating the law as part of the contractual relationship. (Think along the lines of, “We will ship the illegal weapons to you in New York.”) My young acquaintance said that he’d gone to the general counsel, who had instructed him to draft whatever contract the business wanted. The earnest young lawyer had solved the ethical problem by drafting a contract that, when read carefully, would prohibit the illegal conduct. (Think: “Under no circumstance will any weapons of any type be shipped pursuant to this contract.”)

I’m afraid I won’t be recommending this person for any jobs. . . .

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I was working on an agreement yesterday with a contract specialist. Many companies have contract “specialists,” especially in the procurement area, who vet language and negotiate with vendors or buyers up to and until the point where legal assistance becomes necessary.

The problem with this model is that as these specialists, especially in procurement, become proficient in their positions, they can fall into the trap of thinking they are lawyers….

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Last week, I came across this great blog post: The Merits of Not Throwing Someone under the Bus. It touches on a few issues that come up all the time during the practice of law (and probably at any job that involves contact with other human beings, which I’m pretty sure describes a few of the legal ones out there, but correct me if I’m wrong).

In sum, Joey P. found herself in a situation in which she opted to be a team player by correcting some minor edits in a motion that another attorney in her office had prepared and then sending the document out to the client. Doesn’t sound like it would amount to anything, does it? Well, there was a big, dumb mistake in the motion, and the client emailed Joey to point out the blunder (while cc:ing a couple of partners because clients tend to be super nice and thoughtful like that).

Joey explained to her partner what had happened and wanting to be a team player, she took responsibility for not noticing the mistake made by the other attorney and decided not to rat that person out.

The way she handled the situation was pretty admirable (especially for a lawyer). There are, however, a couple of other steps that I would have taken if I had been in her situation that I think would have helped to further team dynamics and also to prevent a poor, innocent associate from being blamed for someone else’s screw-up….

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