In-House Counsel

If you’re a former Supreme Court clerk, the legal world is your oyster. In the words of one observer, “Supreme Court clerkships have become the Willy Wonka golden tickets of the legal profession. So many top-shelf opportunities within the law, such as tenure-track professorships and jobs in the SG’s office, [are] reserved for members of the Elect.”

If you work at a hedge fund, maybe after a stint at Goldman Sachs or a similarly elite investment bank, you’re the Wall Street version of a SCOTUS clerk — at the top of the field, but with way more money. There aren’t many Lawyerly Lairs out there that cost $60 million (the cost of hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen’s new Hamptons house).

What could lure four high-powered lawyers and hedge-fund types, including two former clerks to the all-powerful Justice Anthony Kennedy, to leave their current perches? How about the chance to earn the kind of money that would make a Supreme Court clerkship bonus look like a diner waitress’s tip?

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I’ve finally plucked “big firm mediocre” out of my life.

First, I left Biglaw, so I’m no longer revising lifeless drafts that arrive either up through the ranks or from co-counsel.

Then, my corporation entered fixed fee deals for virtually all of its litigation work. We invited only firms that do good work to compete for our business, and the winners have performed as expected: No brief arrives at our doorstep until it’s been reviewed by someone who can write.

But we still have a few strays: There are cases in oddball jurisdictions or involving unusual specialties where we select counsel on an individualized basis. And we still have old cases lingering from before our fixed-fee days staffed by an assortment of counsel. Once in a long while, I still run into briefs written in the “big firm mediocre” style.

What’s funny is how consistent it is. Although the briefs address different subjects in different jurisdictions, and they’re written by different people, “big firm mediocre” constitutes its own distinct literary genre. Care to write in that genre (or assess whether you already do)? Here are the characteristics:

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Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.

I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.

Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?

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and not its directors, officers or employees—is the client. This can create tension for the in-house lawyer, who is responsible not only to the company, but also to one or more corporate officers or other executives as an employee. On April 10, the New York In-House Counsel Meet-up will hold a discussion, for CLE credit, on the issue of client identity, as well as conflict of interest, privilege, business relationships with the company, “no-contact” rule and other topics using real-world examples and illustrations. Register here »

As regular readers of Above the Law know, we offer a wealth of content for in-house counsel. We have three in-house lawyers at major corporations who write columns for us — Mark Herrmann, Susan Moon, and David Mowry — and we supplement their coverage with additional in-house posts by our other writers.

One subject that our columnists tend to shy away from, for understandable reasons, is that of in-house compensation. They’ve written in general terms about comp issues, but they haven’t, say, divulged hard numbers about how much they earn.

But one of our in-house readers reached out to us and did exactly that. Let’s find out how much this person makes. The claim: in-house lawyers are better paid than you might expect….

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Folks (including those who wrote the Federal Sentencing Guidelines) think that “tone at the top” matters. And those folks are right: If senior executives include the words “with absolute integrity” in their elevator speeches about the company, other people in the organization will catch on. People will come to believe that ethics matter, and ethics will thus come to matter.

But there’s another aspect of “tone at the top” that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines don’t compel: What are we trying to achieve as an institution? What’s your organization’s “tone at the top” on issues apart from obeying the law?

Does a drug company want to “discover and manufacture new substances to help people live longer, healthier lives”? Or does it want to “deliver maximum return to shareholders”?

Or maybe it’s all the same thing. As the (perhaps apocryphal) story goes: An interviewer asked Itzhak Perlman what he wanted out of life. Perlman said he wanted to play the violin. The interviewer was shocked: “Don’t you want to be happy?” “I want to play the violin. If I play the violin, I’ll be happy.”

Maybe if you develop drugs that improve and prolong lives, your shareholders will be rich. (And you’ll probably be happy, too.)

What’s the goal of your professional services firm: Do you want to strive for perfection? Or do you want to generate revenue? Or do you bill by the hour, so it’s all the same thing?

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* Can you DIG it?! Well, SCOTUS can’t, at least when it comes to the Prop 8 case, but perhaps that’s what the conservative justices planned all along. You can probably expect a judicial punt on this one. [New York Times]

* The case for cameras at the high court became even more compelling last week, because people just now realized that having to “spend money to see a public institution do public business is offensive.” Damn straight. [National Law Journal]

* Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s new book, Out of Order (affiliate link), didn’t exactly get a glowing review from the NYT’s Supreme Court correspondent, Adam Liptak. It’s a “gift shop bauble”? Ouch. [New York Times]

* Oh, Lanny Breuer, you tried to be all coy by saying you were interviewing elsewhere, but we knew you’d return to Covington. That “vice-chairman” title is a pretty sweet new perk, too. [Legal Times]

* DLA Piper’s bills may “know no limits,” but in-house counsel claim that while the firm’s emails were “flippant,” they won’t have an impact their already meticulous billing review. [New York Law Journal]

* The true love’s kiss of litigation: Bingham McCutchen’s Sleeping Beauty may have found her prince in Judge Vincent O’Neill Jr., because he ruled that the firm won’t be able to compel arbitration. [Recorder]

* It’s really not a good time to be a prosecutor in Texas. Two months after the murder of ADA Mark Hasse, DA Mike McLelland and his wife were gunned down in their home. RIP. [Dallas Morning News]

* Good news, everyone! The class of 2012 — the largest on record, according to the ABA — was only slightly more unemployed than its predecessors. Cherish the little things, people. [National Law Journal]

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 law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just… gets under my skin.

Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit — i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? — these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because — you hadn’t heard? — that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.

Because that’s what the world so desperately needs: Another lawyer….

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First, some random thoughts on the legal news of the week:

1) Who gives two ***** if gay folks get married? Or have the same rights as you and me? My goodness, if two people want to get married, God Bless them! And it is a civil rights issue; being told that you can’t have information on your partner’s hospital stay because of HIPAA is downright medieval. The pastor whose YouTube speech went viral after reading from anti-desegregation literature and turning it into an anti-gay marriage diatribe was probably the most brilliant argument in defense of gay marriage. Twenty years from now we’ll be saying: “Gay marriage? Meh, it’s really those damned ______ that we have to watch out for…” Hey, it’s America, **** yeah!!, every group gets a turn at being the downtrodden.

2) Don’t get me started on North Dakota’s draconian steps with regard to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Now see, it’s Holy Week and I probably can’t take communion.

3) This DLA Piper billing debacle? Makes me sick, and is a perfect segue into finishing my column from last week. I know I know, DLA came out and said, “Heh heh, we were just kidding. Those guys aren’t even around here anymore. Overbilling? Meh. Never happened, we promise.” What did you expect them to say?

I happen to know personally one of those mentioned in the story, and he was just as much a dim bulb back then, so it is no surprise that he wrote that stuff in an email. That he moved on to a partnership at another firm is no surprise either. I will say that he is infamous for leaving one of the funniest and most outrageous drunk emails voicemails on a colleague’s phone early one morning. And he probably can’t figure out who he is from this blind item in any event. But, I digress, back to overbilling…

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Today, the National Law Journal released its list of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. The NLJ releases a similar list once every few years, and each time, the nation’s top lawyers — some from Biglaw, some from legal academia, some from the in-house world, and some from the trial and appellate bars — celebrate their success in creating real change in the industry. That said, the people named to this list are relatively well-known to the general Above the Law readership, but they won’t exactly be household names to laypeople.

Which legal eagles soared into the NLJ’s list this time around? Well, the NLJ selected their influential lawyers based on their political clout, legal results, media penetration, business credibility, and thought leadership. We’ve whittled the impressive list of 100 down to our own top 10.

So who made our cut?

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