In-House Counsel

As we continue to expand our coverage of law firm partners and in-house counsel here at Above the Law, we are looking for talented individuals who have experience with these constituencies in a marketing capacity and who wish to join a fast-paced, growing media company. The marketing managers will work closely with the ATL editorial, research, and business teams to develop new products and services targeting in-house lawyers and partners at large law firms.

If you are interested, please send your résumé and a cover letter explaining how you are perfect for this job to [email protected]. We welcome your ideas on how we can engage with these audiences even more, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Two years ago, my company had to hire a lawyer to serve as our head of litigation for EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). We weren’t using a recruiter, so we had to locate candidates the old-fashioned way — by putting the word out. I called one of my former partners (a 60-ish corporate partner, who did a lot of work with European clients) and asked if he could spread the word in Europe that we had a position open. He startled me:

“You don’t have to do a job search. I’ll do that job for you.”

“Excuse me,” I stammered. “You do M&A work. You speak only English. You’ve never litigated in a common law country, let alone a civil law one. How could that job possibly make any sense for you?”

“Managing litigation isn’t very hard. It’s really a matter of knowing how to handle the outside lawyers. And given all the time I’ve spent doing deals in Europe, I have that skill down cold. Let me be your head of litigation for EMEA.”

I had forgotten entirely about that conversation until I had lunch last week with a 40-ish litigator at a different Vault 20 firm. He, too, didn’t understand that corporations are different from law firms; at corporations, the specifics of your work experience matter . . .

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In light of some perspectives on women’s fashion that have crossed Above the Law recently (and because I like to beat horses until I’m absolutely sure they’re good and dead), I’d like share a few thoughts. When it comes to what to wear at the workplace, most of us women agree that women should dress professionally. And most of us know what dressing professionally generally looks like, even if not everything is perfectly laid out.

However, there is this “small” issue that there are still too many sexist job interviewers out there who expect women to go beyond just dressing professionally, and demand that we dress in a way that they consider feminine and appropriate for a woman.

Now, some women are perfectly comfortable wearing skirts and heels, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Other women suspect that such items are the devil’s handiwork. In any case, most women aren’t happy when other people dictate how any of us dress in the workplace, so long as we’re meeting the basic standards of professionalism. After all, it’s a rare occasion that men at the office are judged for not dressing in more masculine attire….

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As regular readers of this column know, my son, Jeremy, took a pass on law school: “I really love you, Dad. But basically you help big companies that did it get off the hook.”

Now, if I mention to physician-friends that my son’s in medical school, those friends often react the same way: “God love him; I hope he enjoys it. But I’d never go to medical school these days. Between the insurance companies, the hospital administrators, and the government, there’s no longer any joy in practicing medicine. It’s hard to treat your patients, and it’s hard to make a living. I suspect that things will only get worse over time. I loved being a doctor, but I sure wouldn’t want to be coming out of medical school today.”

I guess that means that today’s college graduates should think hard before deciding to go to medical school. Cross medicine off the list of desirable career choices.

And everyone in the legal profession knows the story about law . . .

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Last week’s column caused a bit an uproar at my attempt to analyze the recent JP Morgan loss of funds from an in-house perspective. I later posted the following in the comments section, and since most of you don’t venture down there (wisely), I am reprinting it here:

“I will take the heat for a column that should have flowed better from factual assertions to analysis. I take the point that attorneys may not have been at fault, and I should have made that point with more clarity in the column. I also should have been more clear in laying out a linear argument from the facts reported in the media. The point I was going for, however inartfully, is that this trade was likely reviewed by someone in a legal capacity prior to approval, and that review should have caused someone pause. Dimon himself admitted that this was a strategy examined by him and management over a month before being executed. [I] [a]gree that the risk analysis was likely not performed by attorney(s), but it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to presume that the legal technicality of whether this was a proprietary trade or a hedge appeared on some lawyer’s desk. And given the distrust of CDS after the recent malfeasance rife in the industry, is it so hard to believe that … lawyers were involved? Nope, I wasn’t there, and I made a poor attempt to examine a scenario which only magnified my lack of fluency in the subject matter. Mea Culpa.”

Now, on to today’s attempt to offer an in-house perspective….

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According to George Will, “Pessimism has its pleasures. Ninety percent of the time you’re right, and ten percent of the time you’re delighted to be wrong.”

That’s how I go through life.

What made me a pessimist? Nature or nurture, perhaps? (Should I blame my parents’ genes or their parenting skills?) Decades defending litigation, which forced me perpetually into a defensive crouch? (If that’s the reason, then plaintiffs’ lawyers must be optimists.) Or my preferred explanation: Keen observation of reality, coupled with endless experience, naturally breeds pessimism.

As an outside lawyer, my pessimism meant that I presumptively expected the worst (or, at a minimum, the least) from colleagues, opposing counsel, clients, and courts. Those folks generally performed precisely to my expectation, reinforcing my pessimism.

As an in-house lawyer, how does pessimism infuse life?

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A not-so-little house on the prairie. It looks like a Wright, right?

Are you having a difficult time finding a position in the depressed legal job market? Maybe you need to think about relocating. Have you considered moving to Iowa? As noted by Vivia Chen over at The Careerist, the “Life Changing” state is experiencing a lawyer shortage.

Lawyer jobs and husks of corn aren’t all that Iowa has to offer. The state also has a reasonable cost of living, including some very well-priced real estate.

Take the Iowa home of a former partner Biglaw partner and former general counsel to a major media company. This lovely residence is currently on the market for a surprisingly modest sum….

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When I tell people that I really love my job, I get various responses. Most of them are something like, “Wow, that’s great,” or “I hate you.” Or sometimes, “That’s very nice, ma’am. May I take your order now, please?” When people ask why I love my job, my response is kind of lame. I tend to say it’s a lot of “fun” and then go on to describe a couple of types of matters I work on. Yeah, not all that insightful.

So for this week’s post, I decided to figure out more specifically (than “umm, so…the social media thing is interesting…”) why a lawyer may love her job. The reasons I came up with are mostly common sense and one reason actually has nothing to do with my job per se….

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I’ve recently heard two seemingly related thoughts: (1) lawyers’ legal skills deteriorate when they go in-house and (2) this makes it harder to move back to a law firm.

I doubt that the difficulty in moving from an in-house job to a law firm (if that difficulty exists at all) has anything to do with one’s skills having deteriorated. Although one headhunter recently told me that it’s hard to go back to a firm after you cross the in-house Rubicon, he insisted that was because most in-house lawyers won’t naturally bring a book of business to the firm that hires them. (I stuck the qualifier “most” in there intentionally. Some in-house lawyers move to a firm, bring the corporation’s legal work with them, and do quite well. But that’s not the typical situation.) It’s no surprise that lawyers who bring clients with them find jobs more easily than lawyers who do not. In-house lawyers often can’t guarantee that business will travel with them, so it’s possible that in-house lawyers are less attractive candidates for firms.

But that’s not my main point today. I also don’t agree that moving in-house automatically causes a lawyer’s skills to deteriorate. How going in-house will affect your skills depends on the nature of your in-house position, how your corporation works, and what skills you’re thinking about . . .

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As an in-house attorney, listening to Jamie Dimon’s Capitol Hill testimony this week caused me no shortage of agita. How in the world does a sophisticated shop like JPMorgan engage in trading that “it didn’t fully understand?” We’re not talking about tranches of junk mortgages; this appears to be basic hedging that went awry to the tune of two billion dollars. Oh, and after this occurred, Dimon was re-upped as the top gun at JPMorgan and given a nice raise. I am sure that there are a raft of attorneys in-house and otherwise advising JPMorgan on this situation — and how to deal with it — but I am more interested in how these trades came to be approved in the first place.

I presume, without knowing, that JPMorgan’s traders have a gauntlet of approval processes to run before implementing new initiatives, and one of those processes surely involved legal approval, or at least legal “go ahead.” Legal surely reviewed the initiative or trades, or whatever the proper term of art may be, before passing it up to the sales floors, and this is the most troubling aspect for me. Assuming that the public testimony is accurate, (and yes, I know what happens when I assume), then the folks responsible for actually trading did not understand what they were doing. Wow. Just wow….

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