In-House Counsel

A time-sensitive matter comes in. An experienced hand is needed to help. Where to look for that help? In Biglaw, the answer is usually an easy one: call up Partner No. 37 in distinguished branch office No. 6, and keep the billable hours rolling — with a happy nod towards a successful “cross-sell,” and instant validation of the underlying “size is good” concept behind so many of today’s firms. But is Partner No. 37 really the best lawyer to help out? Hard to believe that the answer is “yes” more often than not. Because Biglaw firms are constructed the way they are, however, there is a premium on making sure that existing firm resources are utilized as much as possible.

At the same time, we know the legal industry is struggling to cope with demand fluctuations, or all too often a lack of demand for expensive legal services. In the current environment, it is not a surprise to see Biglaw firms contorting themselves to reach optimal size, whether through mergers, layoffs, or lateral growth. Despite their efforts, there are very few firms that are optimally size-calibrated in relation to the demand for their services. For those firms fortunate enough to experience the occasional demand spike, retaining the ability to be nimble on staffing can mean the difference between a satisfied client or one who looks elsewhere “next time there is a big need.” Firms want repeat business, and being able to incorporate experienced additional lawyers — within the budget for a particular matter — onto the legal team can make a real difference in whether or not that repeat business happens.

But where else can firms (of all sizes) go for experienced help on short notice?

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Online Password

You are general counsel to a company, and your CEO steps into your office, clutching his iPhone in one hand and wiping sweat from his brow with the other, and tells you that a compromising photograph of him was stolen from his phone and posted online. You start thinking not if, but when, shareholders will discover this embarrassment, how much it will cost the company and what legal action to take.

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clients RF

One of the phrases we hear most frequently in client feedback interviews is “Make my life easier.” Clients often describe that as the key to their most successful outside counsel relationships, and at other times they express that wish for broken relationships. But what does it really mean and how can we put it into practice? Like a diligent athlete, those who make their clients’ lives easier pursue it as a way of life rather than an act of duty.

As with most of our recommendations, we highly encourage you to customize your approach to the client, include the client in the discussion and adapt and evolve the value over time. Here are some ways to get started:

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women-lawyers

Over three days during September 17-19, InsideCounsel magazine succeeded where others have not. They created a national forum to facilitate women-to-women exchange on current legal issues. This year’s conference was the second annual meeting to bring together talented women attorneys. As part of the process, InsideCounsel invited nationally-recognized women who are General Counsel for Fortune 500 companies and attracted the best and brightest among in-house attorneys around the world. One speakers’ panel shared their experiences for getting to the GC leadership positions where they are today, and the advice is refreshingly candid.

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How do you think we pick lawyers to defend us in litigation?

Judging from some of the emails I get, this is the picture in your mind’s eye:

“Hey, boss, we just got sued in New York. We’ll have to defend ourselves.”

“Shoot! New York City! Do they have any lawyers there?”

“Damned if I know. Lemme grab the New York City phone directory and take a look.”

An hour later:

“Good news, boss. There’re a whole gaggle of lawyers in New York. I think we should hire Bigg & Mediocre.”

“Why’s that?”

“They have an 800 number, so we’ll save some money. And they have a whole bunch of lawyers; one of ‘em probably knows what this ‘RICO’ thing stands for. And their website is really fancy; you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Great! Call that 800 number and ask them to connect you to a litigator.”

If that’s what corporations are doing, then at least you know how to develop business . . . .

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Corporate Counsel just released its annual list of the law firms that Fortune 500 companies utilize as outside counsel (as noted in Morning Docket). Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest corporations turn to some of the biggest names in Biglaw for legal services.

But as we noted last year, the most-mentioned firms aren’t necessarily the most prestigious or the most profitable. The rankings prioritize quantity, and they’re dominated by firms that excel in a particular practice area. See if you can guess which one….

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* In light of today’s vote on Scottish independence, here’s an article on the opportunities for the legal industry if Scotland breaks free. [Business For Scotland]

* What are the biggest pet peeves of corporate counsel. Surprise, surprise, billing “surprises” makes the list. [ALM]

* Attorney General Holder is offering bigger payouts to Wall Street whistleblowers. Start saving your emails now you low-level finance folks! [Legal Times]

* Later today, Baker Hostetler’s John Moscow will try to convince Judge Griesa that he shouldn’t be disqualified for breaching the confidentiality of a prior client. [Law Blog / Wall Street Journal]

* As if Bingham didn’t have enough trouble, Akin Gump swept in and poached a gaggle of lawyers in Europe (as some previously predicted). [Law360]

* Skadden is really good at inversions. Elie would like to thank them for their work undermining American society. [The Am Law Daily]

* Yale Law is teaching students basic financial literacy. While some are hailing this program, my question is: how are kids getting to 20-something without learning this stuff already? [Yale Daily News]

Wonder what it’s like to be the only lawyer at a company? I certainly do. Especially on those dark, brooding, gloomy workdays involving the gnashing of teeth…let’s not go there. There’s not a lot of data about how many of these solo attorneys are out there (read: that’s not available for free on Google). But back in 2011, the Association of Corporate Counsel, Southern California Chapter, did take an in-house compensation survey, which indicated that nearly 30% of their membership is solo in-house counsel.

Inquiring minds wanted to know more. So I interviewed five attorneys whose jobs are to be the lonely voices of legal reason at their companies. They work in the following industries: industries consumer goods, supermarket, biotech, commercial interior design, and telecom.

Three of these lawyers found their jobs using traditional methods — one went through a recruiter, the second applied through an online job site, and the third went to work for a client of his law firm…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What It’s Like To Be A Solo In-House Lawyer (Part I)”

In the not-so-new normal, clients continue to refuse to pay full freight for inexperienced first-year attorneys to work on their legal matters — or, as one law firm recently mused, “client demand for first year associates has declined.”

What’s a Biglaw firm to do?

It seems that one firm has found a pretty good solution to this problem: make someone else hire those lawyers to work as junior in-house lawyers, and then bring them into the fold as associates after they’ve gained some real-world experience.

Which Biglaw firm has teamed up with a big bank — the biggest bank in the U.S. — for this program?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Biglaw Firm Figures Out A Way For Clients Not To Pay For First-Year Associates”

Jodi Arias says, ‘You could own these!’

* If you want to know why Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s summer was “really not fun,” it’s because she spent it reading a book about Justice Antonin Scalia and a book written by Justice John Paul Stevens. [Washington Whispers / U.S. News & World Report]

* “There is less money to pay everybody.” Corporations are shifting more and more of their legal work to their in-house lawyers, and some law firms — especially smaller ones — are feeling the financial squeeze. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If you’ve wanted to know what federal judges discuss during their bathroom breaks, stop wondering, because it’s not that exciting. All they talk about is their “stupid little trials,” and get overheard by jurors and forced into disclosures. [New York Daily News]

* Dewey know why the former leaders of this failed firm want their criminal indictment dismissed? It’s because the case is allegedly based on a “flagrant misunderstanding of the law.” [New York Law Journal]

* If you want to own a “piece of history,” Jodi Arias is auctioning off the glasses she wore during the first phase of her murder trial. She intends to donate the proceeds of the sale to (her own?) charity. [Daily Mail]

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