In-House Counsel

Life in a service profession — there’s nothing to it!

When you’re asked to do something, think about how you can make the other guy’s life as easy as humanly possible. Then, do precisely that. Presto! You’re a star!

When a client asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

When a partner asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

“On time” is typically pretty easy to understand: That means “on or before the established deadline.”

“Right” is slightly trickier: It certainly means, at a minimum, “done to the absolute best of your ability.” (There’s a chance that “the absolute best of your ability” won’t make the grade. That’s an individualized issue, not capable of being resolved in a blog post. But it’s a lock-cinch that you won’t make the grade by “submitting a crappy first effort, riddled with incomplete research, barely literate, and filled with typographical and grammatical errors, because all I’m really trying to do is get the client/partner off my back.”)

Now I’ve moved in-house, and life in an in-house service profession is just like life at a firm — there’s nothing to it! . . .

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I realized this week my one-year anniversary writing for Above the Law had come and gone. For some of you, it may seem like I have way overstayed my welcome, and for others (especially the hundred or so who sent heartfelt letters to my Gmail account) it may have gone quickly. For me, the year has been, well, interesting.

I “applied” for the position of writing about in-house life in August 2011. To their credit, or not, Lat and Elie asked me to write about what life is like as in-house counsel. I figured that the opportunity would help keep my writing skills sharp, get my name around, and offer me an opportunity to interact with others in the same arena, or those who wanted to go in-house. All have come to fruition.

I looked through some of my past columns, and like other writers, am frankly embarrassed by some, and proud of others. Candidly, it is difficult to write a weekly column on a topic such as in-house life. I am awestruck that Mark Herrmann can do it twice weekly. You can discuss how you got here, why you got here, and how others can get here. Then, for the Biglaw folks, you talk about how to get work from here, how to write RFPs for here, and so on. Finally, you can discuss what you do, why you do it, and give some anecdotes about your failures and successes.

You can throw in some gossip from your stint as a clerk and in Biglaw, and some very veiled gossip about in-house life. You can even approach the precipice of being honest about your career, all the while keeping one hand behind you grasping to a root, as you must always remember that this is a highly public forum….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “House Rules: ‘I Looked At The Clock And It Was Half Past Four’”

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, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, is available on Amazon, as is his previous book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

Someone posted the following astonishing comment in response to one of my columns a few months back:

“I’ve never worked in a Biglaw firm, but what happens if an associate just says no, I am busy this weekend, or no, I am on vacation that week, so I won’t be able to do that project. Do you immediately get fired? If that’s true, then you must not really have much to offer to the firm in the first place. In a situation where the associate had some real value to offer to the firm, I do not see why the firm would fire someone for that. Am I hopelessly naive?”

Go ahead — laugh. Get it out of your system. You know perfectly well your guffaws wear thin, right about when that twinge of poignancy creeps in. You, too, once mulled the notion of rising above the fray — going all Bartleby the Scrivener and muttering, “I’d prefer not to,” when asked — oops, I mean told — to work and work and work and work and work….

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As careful readers of this column know, my daughter just started business school in Chicago. (As particularly careful readers may have deduced, Jessica moved to Chicago just as I was being transferred to London. The kid inherited the finest dorm room in the history of The University of Chicago.)

What’s the first thing you do at business school — before classes start, before orientation, before anything?

Draft your résumé. And then give it to an advisor who helps you polish the thing. And then go through several more iterations before you submit the final form to “the first of three résumé books,” as Jessica’s email explained, although I don’t quite understand what the words mean.

(Unless times have changed in the last 30 years, law schools are not nearly as aggressive as business schools in immediately preparing students for the job market. Perhaps that’s an institutional failing. Or perhaps law school runs for three years, so students have two summers available for internships, while business school lasts just two years, which places heightened importance on the recruiting season in the fall of year one — before students have finished a single course.)

Jessica asked me to take a look at the original form of her résumé, which she prepared, and she later sent me (for the customary Dadly-proofreading) the final version — which was much, much better.

I haven’t prepared a résumé for myself in more than two decades, and, mercifully, I’m forced to look at relatively few résumés these days. But I learned a few things from watching my daughter’s résumé pass through the belly of The University of Chicago beast. And this experience prompted me to think about the difference between preparing a résumé when you work at a law firm compared to preparing one when you work in-house . . . .

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Tebowing®

* “You’re paying a partner $800 to $1,000 an hour and they’re charging you because they ordered sushi.” In-house counsel are paying more attention to their bills, and they’re refusing to pay for things like photocopies and food. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* According to litigators, who are the ten most notable federal district court judges to watch? Three come from S.D.N.Y., but one from N.D. Cal. captured our hearts this summer when she asked counsel for Apple if he was “smoking crack.” [American Lawyer]

* A guide for law students with disabilities says: “If you are thinking that you’re a shoe-in for LSAT accommodations since you had accommodations in undergrad, think again.” But thanks to these suits, LSAC’s policies may soon be changing. [National Law Journal]

* Seeing as there are only nine law schools in Illinois, and given the abysmal job market for new law grads, it’s clear the state needs a tenth school. Say hello to Bradley University College of Law. [Peoria Journal Star]

* Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow trademarked “Tebowing.” Yes, seriously. But don’t worry, he didn’t do it to make money, he just wants to “control how it’s used, make sure it’s used in the right way.” [Washington Post]

Perhaps Dechert meant this kind of Macho Man, instead?

* Congrats to Larren Nashelsky for being one bad ass MoFo. He’s taking over as Chair of Morrison & Foerster, and claims the firm’s had “some of [its] best years in recent years.” [San Francisco Business Times]

* Macho, macho man! You’ve got to be, a macho man to work at Dechert. An ex-associate says he was fired for using FMLA time and blames the firm’s “macho culture” in his retaliation complaint. [National Law Journal]

* Sorry, but you make too much damn money. Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission recommended a judge for censure because his salary was “in excess of the amount allowed by law.” [Standard-Examiner]

* “We’re all reacting to Darwinian pressures in the market and from students.” Maybe that’s why law schools are adding more classes having to do with careers as in-house counsel. [Corporate Counsel]

* Jerry Sandusky has asked Judge John Cleland to reconsider his 30-60 year prison sentence because he thinks it’s excessive. Strange, because some people would argue it wasn’t excessive enough. [Bloomberg]

I just read Susan Beck’s piece at the American Lawyer reflecting back on 25 years of legal journalism. That prompts this odd post.

The year is 1987. There’s a hearing in a court in San Francisco that will likely affect the price of a publicly traded security. An arbitrage house retains us: “We must know the result of that hearing first — the instant the information becomes public. We want to be able to trade before our competitors can act on the news.”

What do you do?

You and a colleague arrive at the courthouse an hour before the hearing will begin. One of you goes to the pay phone on the second floor of the courthouse — down the hall from where the hearing will be held — and gets on the line to New York. That person is about to hold an open line to New York for three hours.

The other of you goes into the hearing room, elbowing your way to a seat in the back, near the door. (It’s like the sign outside the country church: “Services 9 am Sunday. Come early for a seat in the rear.”) The hearing lasts a couple of hours, and the judge announces the ruling. All of the lawyers and arbitrageurs push through the door and run down the hallway.

Ha! All of those other guys curse as they run past your guy, who’s holding the open line to New York! You get on the phone and explain the decision. The guy in New York says: “Repeat that.” You repeat it. The guy in New York shouts: “Buy!!!”

And all of the other lawyers and arbs are just now jostling out of the courthouse doors downstairs, heading to the Greyhound Station across the street, where there’s a bunch of pay phones.

So your arbitrageur-client is a happy man, and he retains you again several months later . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: Looking Backwards”

Last night’s debate was fun to watch, and would have been that much better if the president had actually followed his instincts and decked Mitt Romney, à la “Two Tribes.” There was a lot of huffing and puffing and talking over each other and ignoring Candy Crowley, and that was all in good fun. But for me, the most pointed moment was when Mitt claimed to understand that the women in his precious binder needed to get home to cook dinner and get the kids. Here’s the transcript:

“But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you. What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford…”

Holy crap. It is 2012, and we have a candidate for President of the United States not only completely avoiding the direct question regarding equal pay, but also claiming that women need flexible schedules to be employable? WTF?!

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As outside counsel handling a new piece of litigation, where do you start?

At closing argument.

That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it’s a valuable one. When you’re retained to defend a new lawsuit, you have to figure out how your client can win. What’s the other side’s weakest point? What are your strongest points? Where’s the emotional appeal in your case? What legal angles can you exploit? You put all that together and then spend a couple of years developing an evidentiary record that builds your path to victory.

It’s not rocket science: Figure out how to win; get there. Good lawyers do it intuitively.

As in-house counsel, when we receive preliminary case assessments from mediocre outside counsel, we don’t get the route to victory. What do we get?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: The Route To Victory”

Last week, we evaluated the importance of executive presence for gaining your colleagues’ trust and confidence, as well for career advancement. We also examined more specifically what we may be inadvertently communicating to others with just our body language. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read last week’s article, I know you’re dying to find out what you missed (your body language told me), so you can catch up right here.

In this article, we’ll explore several other qualities that together create the bright and beautiful package of executive presence that you can use to rule the world. MUAHAHAHAHA. (I know, I have a bit of a problem…sorry….)

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