In-House Counsel

Fair is fair is fair: Two weeks ago, I wrote about how to drive partners nuts. Last week, I wrote about how to drive associates nuts. Today, I’m continuing along the lawyers’ food chain: Secretaries (or “administrative assistants”) — it’s your turn: How can you drive your boss nuts? [FN1]

First: Your time after work is yours, to tend to your family, watch TV, go clubbing, or whatever. So you have to handle all of the other stuff — like making appointments, chatting with out-of-town friends, shopping, and the like — during work hours. Happily, the telephone and computer at your desk are all the equipment you need. So do all your shopping on-line during business hours. Talk to your friends, post stuff at Facebook, and surf the web from your office desk.

That does three things for you. It gives you more free time at home, to spend as you like. It helps to pass the time during work hours. And — best of all! — it’ll drive your boss nuts! Every time your boss walks up to give you a project, just click away from Amazon.com and whisper “gotta go” into your receiver. Your boss may not notice and, if he does, you’ve just pushed him one step closer to the edge, which is, after all, the name of this game. Use your time at work intelligently; use it to handle all of your personal affairs.

Don’t just fritter away your eight hours a day at the office. Also, nibble around the edges. Leave the office at 4:55 without telling your boss. Maybe she won’t notice, and she’ll surely never come frantically looking for you seconds after you’ve left. Sticking your head in the door and saying good night would just tip her off that you’re cutting out early; don’t do it!

Also, remember that Mondays and Fridays during June, July, and August are meant to be taken as sick days. If you take them regularly, your boss will get used to this, and he’ll become more efficient, doing all of his work between Tuesday and Thursday. He’ll probably thank you for this.

How else can you drive your boss nuts?

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I recently met a young-ish female in-house counsel. She was a Biglaw refugee, married with an eye to starting a family, who had jumped at the chance to go in-house rather than submit to the particular pleasures of the partnership push. We got to talking, and while my instinct told me to go into sell mode, I decided to play things more coolly. A lot of active listening on my part ensued, as I was subjected to various and sundry complaints about life as a female Biglaw associate, followed by a discourse on how much better in-house life was. I kept the conversation light, injecting some shots at Biglaw (these met with laughter and approval), while letting her do most of the talking. I was consciously avoiding acting like a Biglaw partner, or showing any interest in her because of her status as potential client.

Things became interesting when she started discussing her dissatisfaction with her current outside counsel. Various and sundry became a litany, as she complained about the male partner’s inattention to her, the sloppy work of the female associate she was dealing with, and the size of the bills. Most importantly, she complained of feeling unappreciated by the Biglaw firm she was using — and suspected that the lawyers working for her actually hated her. She did not want to feel hated. I can’t blame her — nor would I be shocked if she switched firms in the near future.

We eventually parted ways, but like a good Biglaw partner, I followed up with an email and my contact info. The email differed from what I would send a male in-house counsel after an introductory meeting. My email to the in-house lawyer was much less formal, and was actually jokey — but I wanted to stick with what was apparently working in terms of getting her to open up to me. It worked, as she replied right away with a joke of her own, and warm acknowledgement of how it was good to meet. Looking good — until I decided to experiment with something….

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Q: What’s one way in which the non-lawyers at your company are just like law firm partners?

A: Each person cares almost exclusively about her own work and her own little universe. And expects you to do the same. There’s no reason why Finance, Customer Service, HR, and Marketing can’t all be the most important function in the company is there?

Business people don’t have much incentive to give you a lot of time to review or prepare a legal document or address an issue. Generally, the faster they’re able to close deals, offer new products and services, and complete projects, the more quickly the company will make money and they’ll get the pats on the back. It’s actually hard to blame them for wanting everything done ASAP. Heck, I’d be the same way if I were on the business side.

From a quality of work and life perspective, though, “ASAP” is a bad way for a lawyer to go about things. Work quality decreases while stress levels increase. To manage ASAP requests, try to distinguish between the types of requests and collaborate with the business folks to meet their needs….

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Back in the day, Ted Kennedy could cheat his ass off.

* ‘Unprecedented’ cheating at Harvard. Nice to know that Ted Kennedy’s spirit is alive and well in Cambridge. [Harvard Crimson]

* Court accidentally posts secret settlement. That’ll teach these courts from keeping secrets. [Boston Globe]

* Here is an appropriate response to a law firm brochure. [Lawprofblawg]

* Former News of the World lawyer arrested. You know, the problem with the News of the World scandal is that it’s one of those things that happens somewhere else and so Americans don’t care. Americans like me. [Wall Street Journal]

* Cincinnati law profs pass around the collection plate and come up with a scholarship for students. [Tax Prof Blawg]

* Citibank settled with its shareholders for being buying bad assets. In other news, Citibank bought a lot of bad assets. [Dealbreaker]

Releasing a book may not bring you fame or fortune, but it surely brings you interesting e-mails. I devoted last Thursday’s column to an e-mail I received from a reader of the Inside Straight book asking whether law firms undervalue good lawyering. I’m devoting this column to an e-mailed reaction posing a different question: Must a lawyer specialize if he or she hopes to develop business effectively?

My correspondent (who again is a partner at an Am Law 100 firm and again gave me permission to edit and reproduce his or her words anonymously) wrote: “Your case study of how you developed a pharmaceutical product liability practice (when you worked at a big firm) says as much by implication as it does expressly. You’re implicitly asserting that one develops business more effectively by showing that you’re a specialist in a field the client needs rather than saying that you have a fungible skill. But I suspect that your true value as a lawyer was largely unrelated to your business development pitch in which you pretended that you were a specialist.

“Ultimately, what you brought to the table in private practice wasn’t a nearly 30-year career in pharmaceutical products law. You brought a vast wealth of experience gleaned from cases that had nothing to do with the area of law that, at a particular time, happened to govern specific cases.

“It pains me that lawyers feel compelled to become specialists — or, at a minimum, to pretend that they’re specialists — if they want to develop business . . . . ”

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I watched the sunset with my son last night. I told him that today would never come again, and that I was so happy to have watched the day end next to him. It then occurred to me that I had missed so many events since becoming a practicing lawyer; and for what? The easy answer is that I was such a hungry young turk, that I would always choose work over play because that is what lawyers do. Especially Biglaw attorneys. It was simply a rite of passage to regularly catch the 8:03 p.m. with a couple of oilcans of Foster’s Lager, arrive home after 9 p.m., and be up again at 6 a.m. to rinse and repeat.

Even more hardcore was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to prepare a brief for filing. Associates would lament, with an undercurrent of braggadocio, about how they had to cancel a vacation in order to complete a filing. And the funny thing is, I don’t recall any partners cancelling anything — ever. So, the hard (and candid) answer is that I was a fool….

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Ed. note: This is the second column in a series by Anonymous Partner focusing on the issues facing women in the legal profession. You can read the first column here.

Biglaw partners sell their time and attention to clients who want legal help. Partners devote plenty of thought and attention to the mechanics of selling — the how, the what, and even the why regarding client’s selection of counsel. Biglaw firms rightfully obsess about these issues, spending untold sums on robust marketing departments, consultants, and the like, in the hopes that their partners will magically all become rainmakers (or at least adept “cross-sellers”).

But while the how, what, and why of rainmaking get a lot of attention, there is a glaring lack of attention and discussion of the “who” — as in, who are the people making the decisions to purchase the gold-plated services offered by Biglaw. You would think determining the profiles of your target customers, and targeting sales approaches accordingly, would be an important endeavor for a professional-services outfit. You would also think that Biglaw firms would discuss with their current and future rainmakers strategies for appealing to various types of purchasers of Biglaw services. Neither of the Biglaw firms I have been a partner at have done so — at least when it comes to adopting different approaches to pitching female in-house counsel. I would bet my experience is typical.

What does this have to do with “Biglaw Lady Issues”? Easy. While the statistics tell us that women — in part because of the challenges posed by the timeline I discussed last week, among other factors — are not really moving the needle much in terms of becoming Biglaw equity partners, there is no doubt that they are entering Biglaw in substantial numbers, and leaving to take in-house positions — again in substantial numbers. As Old School Partner reminded us, Biglaw is within a lifetime of being a “men’s only” club. Those days are over, as are the days when someone like Old School Partner could build a firm of men selling to male-run businesses with exclusively-male in-house counsel. But nobody really talks about the impact that the increasing number of female in-house counsel do (and should) have on Biglaw marketing efforts and client retention. Seems crazy that this is the case….

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Fair is fair: I wrote last week about “what drives partners nuts.” Having armed associates with the ammunition needed to drive partners crazy, it’s only right that I arm partners with ways to drive associates nuts. (I realize that many partners are quite good at this even without my help, but I figure a stray few could use some guidance.)

Come on, partners, how can you drive associates nuts?

First: Give associates disembodied projects!

If you wanted someone actually to be interested in a project, you’d tell that person what the project was about. You’d explain what the transaction entails, what the client needs, and the critical issues likely to arise. In litigation matters, you’d explain who’s suing whom for what, the path the case is taking, the client’s main concerns, and the likely endgame. That would put a person’s brain in gear, and the person might actually care about his or her work.

So don’t do it!

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So you like being an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer. Wonder if M&A work is different in-house compared to private practice? It’s just slightly different. Like maybe about 90% slightly different.

If you’re an M&A lawyer at a firm, your main responsibilities on a deal will be to draft the purchase agreement and other documents, actually review all of the due diligence on the company to be acquired, advise on and negotiate various legal issues, and keep track of everything that needs to be signed, filed, and otherwise happen from a legal standpoint to “close the deal.” The other primary value that outside M&A counsel provide is to inform on what’s standard and market in M&A deals and arrangements. This all sounds like a lot. And it is.

But because the tasks required of outside counsel are pretty much “pure legal” items, they’re a fraction of the amount of work that needs to be done by the in-house M&A attorney, who gets to manage all of the above, plus much of the non- or pseudo-legal stuff that the rest of the company actually cares about…

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Last year, one of my columns explained how I went about developing a new practice at a large law firm. Now that ABA Publishing has repackaged some of my old columns as a book, I’m hearing new reactions to some of those older columns. One of my recent correspondents — a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm — raised a good issue about my column on business development. He gave me permission to crib from (and slightly revise) his long e-mail (without attribution to him), so that’s what I’m doing here:

“In your case study of business development, you ask whether the business development game is worth the candle. But you seem to presuppose that the game is really worth playing in the first place. My problem isn’t with the premise that if you want to develop business you must work hard at it and be lucky. My problem is with the assumption that the only goal worth achieving in law is success in business development. I think you are correct in saying that law firms under-appreciate business development efforts and over-appreciate business development successes. But I think they over-appreciate both compared to good lawyering . . .

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