In-House Counsel

My daughter — you remember her — recently chose her job for the summer after her first year of business school. She was so earnest and diligent about it; it makes a Dad proud.

Choosing a summer job is a huge event in the life of the student: This is, after all, the place where you’re likely to work for at least the first several years of your professional career. A summer job is a big deal.

But consider how things look from the other side of the table: Yet another crop of summer kids appears at your firm for a fleeting moment and promptly vanishes, perhaps to return 15 months later when there’s a chance one of them might help in a real way with some case. Or maybe they won’t come back. Or be any good. Could you remind me again what city I’m flying to tonight, and what motion I’m arguing tomorrow?

Don’t get me wrong: A fair number of lawyers pal around with the summer folks, because (1) those lawyers enjoy spending time with the newcomers, (2) it’s important to the firm to recruit the summer class effectively, and (3) the firm has a budget for entertaining summer associates, and you might as well get your fair share of free lunches and drinks after work.

Eating lunch with a summer associate isn’t a bad deal. But work with one of ‘em? That’s a very different story….

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It is common knowledge around ATL that I am a huge proponent of the Association of Corporate Counsel (“ACC”). I have served on their boards, presented at their seminars and annual meetings, and generally participated as much as my time allows. Now, truthfully, this amount of participation has gotten me to Orlando, Los Angeles and New Orleans; all absolutely necessary trips, I swear. But there is another side to ACC than just fantastically run and organized events and parties, and that other side is advocacy on the part of business, and specifically in-house business.

Lat sent me a press release this week focused on an amicus letter that ACC sent to the S.D.N.Y. regarding the plaintiffs’ attorney fees request in In re Citigroup Securities Litigation, Case No. 1:07-cv-09901-SHS. After reading the letter and doing some research on my own, I came to the conclusion (yet again) that I have missed the boat by not practicing plaintiff-side law. These folks are asking with straight faces for what seem to be exorbitant and outrageous fees. Specific to this post and the ACC letter, they argue that contract attorney time (such attorneys normally make modest hourly wages) should be calculated at Biglaw associate hourly rates in order for the judge to arrive at a fee award. To put on my elite intellectual vocabulary hat for a moment, this is crazy talk…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “House Rules: The Rates Are Too Damned High! (Part One)”

Client service. The heartbeat of Biglaw. The area where every firm has to improve. Perpetually. Biglaw hamsters in overdrive. All to make the clients happy. Sit back and admire your Biglaw firm’s willingness to go the “extra mile” by listening to its clients. We might even see a client paraded before our partners once a year. (See my column on improving partner meetings by having guest appearances from clients.)

We are taught happy clients are well-paying clients. And clients that will refer their dissatisfied colleagues at other companies to experience our brand of Biglaw magic. We love clients. Almost as much as the consultants do on House of Lies, a show that provides outrageous, if funny, explorations of the client-service provider dynamic in modern-day America. (A fun business development-training program would involve watching a series of client-interactions from the show and learning from them. Better than listening to Rainmaker X pretend the reason for his multimillion-dollar book was not his maternal grandfather’s business dealings and connections.)

Truly thinking about client service can be all-consuming, especially for a younger partner like myself. No one is giving me clients. I have to fight for them in the marketplace. I love it, but it is difficult and you need patience.

But rather than focus on the process of developing clients, let’s discuss the art of “superpleasing” clients….

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We had the good fortune to have Patrick Fitzgerald — the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who recently joined Skadden — speak to my company’s global compliance conference last month.

Let me prove that I’ve learned a little about this blogging business over the years: Before the jump, I’ll give you my personal thought or two about introducing prominent speakers. I’ll hold the good stuff — what Fitzgerald, the famous guy, said — until after the jump. (Watch this, Lat! They’ll be drawn through the jump like vultures to carrion!)

How do you introduce a prominent speaker? You can do it the usual way: He went to school, got a job, and did some fancy stuff, zzzzzzzz.

Or you can find something offbeat about the person. I chose to introduce Fitzgerald by saying that I was afraid that our speaker had peaked too young. He had been named one of the sexiest men alive by People magazine in 2005; how do you ever surpass that? And, also in 2005, he had received an award from Washingtonian magazine for “best performance without a script.” For most people, it’s all downhill from there.

Fortunately, our speaker managed to surpass his early achievements. And then I trotted through what must be the usual litany in a Fitzgerald introduction: Led the prosecutions of former Illinois Governors George Ryan (sentenced to five years) and Rod Blagojevich (14 years) and a bunch of others.

That was my contribution to the hour. But, you might ask, what did the famous guy have to say?

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Talking Heads was a teensy bit before my time, but some of you know the above lyric. I came into my own with music right around “Burning Down the House.” It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to appreciate the world of music instead of my world of music. Living in New York City at the time of Dinkins showed me just enough rough trade to appreciate what New York was like in the 70s. Today, clubs like CBGBs and Wetlands are but mere memories for those of us with enough memory remaining. If you want a taste of “old” New York, I recommend watching “Dog Day Afternoon,” or even “Do the Right Thing.”

These days it’s almost embarrassing to walk through Times Square with its Disney-fied atmosphere. I am all for safety when walking the streets of Manhattan, but velvet ropes outside of my old dive bars in now gentrified neighborhoods make me long for the days when the City had some edge. Some of you may not believe this, but Bryant Park was once avoided like the plague after a certain hour. There used to be a bar guide put out by some enterprising young men, and my then-girlfriend — now wife of 20 years — once highlighted the names of the watering holes we had visited. When we realized we had been in fully 70% of the bars in the book, we knew it might be time for a change.

The 70% part is absolutely true, but the real reason we left Manhattan was that she got into school in Boston and my acting career was at a standstill…

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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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