In-House Counsel

In-house lawyers receive a good amount of guidance on ways to effectively deal with business clients. However, we typically receive less direction on how to work well with another big, and in some ways, our biggest, “client”: our managers.

Managers differ. Some are very hands-off and rely on you to update them only when you think it’s necessary. (Sometimes you may need to remind them who you are.) Or you may have a micromanager. Does he insist that you provide him with a memo, with citations, for each bathroom break you plan take? Bingo. Management skills vary. Some managers sincerely care about your well-being, and others suspect everyone wants to off them for their job. There are those who want to be your bestest friend forever and ever, while others maintain a cool distance.

As a “direct report,” you need to learn how to effectively work with your manager’s style and preferences. Banging your head against your office wall is only one of many good options. There are also several “managing up” approaches that apply when working with nearly all managers, regardless of how much of a freakshow your own boss may be….

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* BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 charges and pay $4.5B in fines, but before going through with it, several Biglaw firms helped the company sell off assets to fund litigation- and spill-related costs. [Am Law Daily]

* According to HBR Consulting, compensation for in-house attorneys has risen over the past year — including bonuses, which went up to $62,500. Sorry, but Biglaw isn’t following suit. [Corporate Counsel]

* It’s better to leave well enough alone: Pryor Cashman was ordered to pay more than $21K in legal fees for filing a frivolous motion over its repeated attempts to dismiss a case. [New York Law Journal]

* Judge Susan McDunn, who claimed that her “life [was] being ruined” by the secret lawsuits of many powerful Chicagoans, has resigned. Looks like her $182K salary wasn’t enough to buy crazy pills. [Chicago Tribune]

* James T. Hayes Jr., the ICE agent who accused his superior of subjecting male employees to her “sexually offensive behavior,” settled his discrimination lawsuit against the government for $175,000. [Washington Post]

Long ago, my law firm won an appeal, and we were thinking of publicizing the victory for the benefit of both the client and our firm.

“It’ll be good to get some attention,” I said to the senior partner.

“It’s easy to get attention,” said he. “Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We don’t want attention. We want good attention.”

The same could be said of corporate law departments: It’s easy to get attention. It’s harder to get attention for simply doing a good job.

Suppose you wanted your corporation’s law department to be the darling of the press and be nominated for “law department of the year” honors. What would you do?

It’s easy: Make the type of big, public announcements that draw attention: “Our law department is announcing three major initiatives. First, we’re announcing a pro bono initiative. All of our in-house lawyers will devote at least 500 hours per year to pro bono matters. Second, we’re implementing a diversity initiative. [Insert details here.] Third, we’re completely eliminating reliance on the billable hour. Henceforth, all of our law firms will work on flat-fee or other alternative billing arrangements.” (There are surely other items that one could add to this list, too, that are escaping my feeble imagination.)

Gin ‘em up. Send out a press release. Presto! Your law department would be the toast of the town. People would be beating down your doors seeking interviews. But what would you have accomplished?

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I have borrowed the Boy Scout motto because I am involved in a complex cross-border transaction. Yeah, I am not kidding. I am using today’s column to point up the importance of in-house counsel being involved in a difficult deal as close to inception as possible.

Usually, the field calls when there is an approval needed for some non-standard language, or a review of a legal concept is required. At this stage in a deal, the parties are well on their way to completion, and some legal issue has arisen. But, in a complex global agreement, there are numerous variables that one must remain on top of from the start. Foremost is an understanding of the deal itself. A very close second is an understanding of what exactly the Customer is expecting, having awarded an RFP to your company.

RFPs are quirky animals, rife with opportunity for miscommunication or differing interpretations of answers. The field has prepared its response in reaction to the knowledge that several competitors are bidding on the same deal. And we all know that field ops are known for their lack of puffery and straight arrow responses to questions like, “Can you deliver X in Dubai on a single day’s notice?” Not to denigrate field ops, but the answers are always, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” setting the Customer’s expectation at such a high level, that when it comes time to actually negotiate Ts and Cs, you, in-house lawyer-person, are going out to some very hungry wolves….

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An old Arab proverb says that there are four types of men:

“He who knows not and knows not he knows not; he is a fool — shun him.

He who knows not and knows he knows not; he is simple — teach him.

He who knows and knows not he knows; he is asleep — wake him.

And he who knows and knows he knows; . . .

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Just try telling him to put out his smokes. Not gonna happen.

* You can take our lives, but you can never take our freedom to slowly take our own lives by smoking cigarettes in public! [U.S. Eighth Circuit / FindLaw]

* Some humorously sketchy legal advice, courtesy of Reddit. [Associate's Mind]

* A Russian in-house attorney got dumped and then allegedly went to work and shot seven people. [ABA Journal]

* L.A. County voted to force porn stars to wear condoms during shoots. In other news, the entire porn industry packed up yesterday and moved to… somewhere outside L.A. County. [Legal Blog Watch]

* Dean Boland, one of Paul Ceglia’s ex-lawyers, just lost an appeal of a $300K judgment after he allegedly manipulated “photos that depicted minors engaged in sex acts.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* Elie says: You’d think that covering up your own extra-marital affairs would be part of the CIA Director entrance exam. [New York Times]

It’s annoying when people talk about stuff they know little about. (Unless it’s on a law blog, in which case this is assumed.) Take Twitter. Most people I know who’ve decided that Twitter is a waste of time have either never used it or tried it out briefly and given up. It’s particularly annoying when you’re attending a social media CLE and one of the panelists says, “I don’t get Twitter.” I’ve seen this happen more than once and automatically think, “And I’m listening to you why…?”

Twitter is partly to blame for this. The site launched eight years ago with a prompt for users to answer the question, “What are you doing?” This led to the assumption that users would post stuff like they just had a soup and sandwich for lunch. As if any of us would care. Twitter has since updated the question to “What’s happening?” which is a more accurate reflection of the variety of content that’s actually shared on Twitter.

I’m one of those people who created a Twitter account some time ago and promptly forgot about its existence. Then, about two years ago, I decided to try Twitter out in earnest for two reasons: one that was related to work and the other that was much more selfish….

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What was the most anxiety-ridden ten minutes I’ve experienced under an editor’s gaze?

I had finished the manuscript of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. My then-15-year-old son, Jeremy (who, like any teenager, would as soon spit in his father’s eye as praise him), said: “So, Dad, you wrote a book, huh?”

“Yes, Jere.”

Long pause. “Let me see the first chapter.”

I knew exactly what the kid was thinking: “I guess, if my Dad wrote a book, I should take a look. But this is going to be unbearable. So I’ll read a few pages and be done with it.”

Jeremy sat in the family room reading chapter one. I paced anxiously in the kitchen. My wife didn’t understand my anxiety: “Why are you so nervous? It’s only Jeremy.”

“Don’t you see? Jeremy’s my first truly neutral reader. He’s not a lawyer. He’s not inclined to read the thing. He won’t cut me any breaks. If Jeremy likes it, there’s a chance there’s actually an audience for this thing.”

After a few more anxiety-ridden minutes, Jeremy walked into the kitchen. After a seemingly endless pause: “Let me see chapter two….”

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* Now that Barack Obama has secured his seat as a two-term president, in-house counsel in the financial sector can kiss their dreams of Dodd-Frank being repealed goodbye. Here are some issues to think about in light of its new footing. [Corporate Counsel]

* “We’re in the early innings of adjusting what value means.” And these days, it looks like “value” is synonymous with “making less money.” Given the results of this third quarter analysis, it’s quite clear that flat is still the new up for Biglaw. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Blow my whistle, baby? A DLA Piper partner filed a $4M suit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on claims he was maliciously prosecuted as revenge for whistleblowing. [Daily Business Review]

* After being arrested on domestic violence charges, it seems that Steven Guynn of King & Spalding has left the firm. He doesn’t need to sweat his unemployment, because his house is for sale for $3.3M. [Am Law Daily]

* From Biglaw to Midlaw: Morrison Cohen, a midsize firm, managed to poach a partner from Willkie Farr. But how? Apparently this guy was no longer interested in billing “$900-plus” per hour. [New York Law Journal]

* Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will be present at Jared Lee Loughner’s sentencing hearing today, though it is unknown if she herself will speak. His expected sentence is life without parole. [ABC News]

I have to start by saying that the more Karl Rove tried to get the anchors to listen to him, the more he sounded like Milton desperately trying to hold on to his red stapler. Of course, that incident in “Office Space” didn’t end so well for the Initech building, but I digress. In any event, it is over — until Monday, when the cycle starts back up again. The most poignant moment for me last night was sharing a Garbage Plate with my son, who will be about to obtain his learner’s permit when the circus next comes to town. My prediction for 2016: Clinton in a landslide victory.

It is with optimism that I look forward to the close of 2012 and Q4. Business has been picking up and there are signs that the slog of economic momentum might continue to gain traction, and no matter your politics, you had better hope so. We all need each other right now, and not in a Kumbaya sort of way. Biglaw feeds off corporations, and corporations (who are people, too) require economies on local as well as global scales to continue to improve. But, as we see in parts of Europe, improvement is relative.

It could be catastrophic for even a single country to flounder, and the tenuous assistance being offered by stronger economies cannot last in perpetuity. Besides, I believe there’s a rule against that. Asia seems to be faring well, and will be a focal point in the next four years. Anyone who believed the blather from both candidates about “punishing” China needs to hear this — bull and sh*t. We rely so very heavily on China for its labor, imports, and other benefits, and China is so very deep into our economy, that any show of judicial force or otherwise is just that, a show….

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