In-House Counsel

Hello readers! This post marks the one-year anniversary of my writing for Above The Law. **Hooray!** Whew, okay, now that all of that crazy excitement is over with, let’s move on.

Every once in a while, I meet people who ask whether there’s any value in doing a clerkship if they would eventually like to practice transactional law in-house. Like a dutiful little blogger, I consulted with several senior in-house attorneys on their thoughts about whether a clerkship is valuable for an in-house transactional practice.

The lawyers I consulted who hadn’t clerked generally saw little to no value in a clerkship with respect to an in-house transactional practice. Why spend an entire year of effort on something that’s not going to be directly applicable to your practice (and, by the way, pays diddlysquat), when you could be getting firsthand experience drafting contracts and working on deals on Day 1? Plus, it’s not like businesspeople have a clue what the difference is between a law clerk and, you know… a rock.

The attorneys who had clerked, on the other hand, saw many potential benefits….

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Each year, Corporate Counsel compiles a list of the firms that the Fortune 100 companies use as outside counsel. These are the firms that corporate clients turn to when they’ve got bet-the-company litigation. From Exxon Mobil to Apple to Walmart, and everywhere in between, these are the clients with the deepest of pockets, and if you care at all about the business end of the law, then this is a list that you should care about.

But this time around, the list looks a little different. Due to the state of the economy, general counsel are now looking for more ways to reduce costs, and are constantly seeking out alternative fee structures. The firms on this year’s list may have been the ones that were most amenable to such changes.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at which firms topped this year’s list….

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Here’s a sad tale that I’ve heard repeatedly recently from senior partners at major law firms.

When these partners were associates, they were superstars. They did great work, were in high demand, and sailed through the ranks.

These folks were invited into the partnership along with (or even before) their peers.

As junior partners, these folks remained superstars. Senior partners were anxious to delegate responsibility to these people, and the then-junior partners were flattered to be asked. The junior partners were doing interesting work, being paid handsomely (if not royally) for their efforts, and were contentedly busy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. My correspondents became senior partners, and this crippled them (professionally). They had aged out of utility to their firms. . . .

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Blind item: which fairly powerful, yet overly fey — and we’re talking Dana Carvey “Gay?? That’s ridiculous!!” fey — and married Biglaw partner with top school credentials, regularly double and triple bills clients?

Blind item: which Biglaw firm, when faced with a lawyer deponent from a small shop who was clearly mentally unstable, chose to do nothing, ignoring its reporting obligations?

I mention the above anecdotes because they are all true, and because they all include reportable ethical breaches. When we were inducted into the Second Department in Brooklyn, and in ethics class, our reporting obligations were hammered into us — yet, nothing is ever done. Why?

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You’ve seen it time and time again in these pages: years spent in Biglaw can lead to great excesses, and we’re not just talking about those luxurious lawyerly lairs. Biglaw veterans also go to extremes in other areas of life, including overindulgence in alcohol and violence.

Take, for example, Bryan Brooks, a former Skaddenite. After doing a four-year stint at the firm, Brooks moved in-house at American Express. It’s a good thing he chose the credit card company as his new home, because back in June 2011, Brooks had a major “don’t leave home without it” moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his Amex card that he was worried about.

In this case, Brooks wished that he had his defense attorney’s phone number on hand, because he was accused of slashing a bar patron’s face with the classiest weapon of all: a broken champagne flute….

An important UPDATE — namely, Brooks’s vindication at trial — after the jump.

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I was recently asked to write an article about the future of Biglaw. (That’s one of the benefits of writing this column: Writing yields more opportunities to write. Like first prize at the pie-eating contest.)

I naturally asked some Biglaw acquaintances what they saw in their firms’ futures, in an effort to generate some grist for the article’s mill. (Given that I occasionally write in unbelievably awkward, and arguably unintelligible, mixed metaphors — such as “grist for the article’s mill” — it’s a wonder that Lat even permits me to continue writing this column, let alone that others solicit me to write in other fora. But that’s neither here nor there.)

What do my Biglaw lunch dates (and others whom I pester) say about their futures? They say many things, but one common refrain about the future of Biglaw is “consolidation. Big law firms will continue to merge, and only the biggest will thrive.” When I ask why firms will feel compelled to grow, folks often say: “Clients insist on it. Clients want one-stop shopping.”

What clients? Any real ones, or just theoretical ones? I, at least, don’t insist on one-stop shopping. . . .

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If you took a poll in which you had to answer how good a lawyer you are, how would you rank yourself — below average, average, or above average? With the “illusory superiority” phenomenon at work, more than 50% of you would respond that you’re an above average lawyer. Now, you don’t have to be good at math to figure out that something’s not quite right here.

Because I care about my ATL readers, I’ve decided to make it my mission in this post to enlighten those of you below average lawyers as to your not-so-great-as-you-think-ness. The key to getting around illusory superiority is to not rely on your own fallible opinion of yourself. Instead, look to other more objective indications of your inferiority.

What are some signs that you may be a below average lawyer?

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How to drive partners nuts. How to drive associates nuts. How to drive your boss nuts. How to drive clients nuts.

What’s left? Today’s topic: How to drive outside counsel nuts.

I’d say that I’ve been thinking long and hard about this subject to permit me to draft this column, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m a natural at this!

How do you drive outside counsel nuts?

First: Insist that outside counsel prepare a budget for every matter. Then complain that the budget is too high; tell counsel to reduce it. Complain that your business will never accept even the revised budget, and tell counsel to cut the estimate further. When you get the second revision, gin up some reason why even that’s too high, and have counsel cut the budget again.

Six months later, when counsel has blown through the budget, refuse to pay the bill! “You told me you could handle this case for damn near nothing. And now you want all this money? This is far more than what you budgeted. There’s no way we’re paying this!”

See? I told you that I was a natural. And I’m just getting warmed up . . . .

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I am told there is a fad wherein you get up on a faux bicycle, and make your legs go around on pedals as fast as possible until the room starts spinning. To my Cheetos-stained mind, this sounds like an awful idea. (Hey, at least my mind is not nicotine-stained.) But the “spinning” I am talking about goes by several different identities: panic, anxiety, etc. It is caused by a single source: error.

As lawyers, we are expected to be perfect. Oh, not perfect people, oh no no no. But perfect in our writing, analysis, and so on. Laypeople have no understanding of the pressure that we regularly practice under, be it in Biglaw, or for overly anal-retentive judges. We are not allowed mistakes, there is no such thing as a first draft, there is instead a “perfect” draft that gets reviewed to the level of uber-perfect. However, because we are human, and not perfect, there is always a chance for disaster — missing a deadline, missing a citation, or worse.

Once error is introduced into our perfect worlds, spinning can set in if not immediately and staunchly held in check. Now, it is true that we aren’t following the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade on shovel duty, but the pressure under which we practice manifests itself in some horrible things such as alcoholism, divorce, and suicide….

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If you are bad at these things, it can ruin you life.

I don’t even remember my SAT score. I know it wasn’t a round number. I know it was in the top 5 of my high school class. But the actual number, I couldn’t tell you. And I wouldn’t know where to look it up. I mean, we’re talking about something that happened to me almost two decades ago. I think the last time somebody asked me about my SAT score to my face I made a mental note to have sex with his girlfriend.

And in the intervening two decades, hasn’t the scoring scale changed multiple times? I have no idea how my score that I can’t remember would look compared to others who took the test more recently.

Luckily, none of this matters because nobody is going to ask to see my SAT score before they let me spew nonsense on the internet.

It’s a good thing that I’m not trying to be a general counsel at a hedge fund. I know it’s kind of “industry standard” to ask for that information if you want a job, but can’t we all agree that it’s an incredibly lazy way to hire employees?

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