In-House Counsel

I very much appreciate reader feedback on my columns, whether received via email or in the comments. Here’s one of the better critiques from the comments section last week, from “Guesty”:

“David — you need to decide what you’re trying to accomplish with this column rather than just describing negotiating a form contract with a customer in vague terms. Every corporate attorney negotiates contracts; you aren’t telling us anything interesting when you say you consider the risks to your client in each provision. For example, if you explained the degree of autonomy you have in negotiating (and why), that might be interesting (you might also describe your level within the legal group and who you’re answering to when you make a legal decision). Are you just playing CYA games within your company or do you really need the input of lots of different specialists? You imply it’s all a BS CYA game to make auditing happy — if that’s true, it’s kind of a depressing way to make a living.”

There are some worthwhile points made by this commenter. Let me try and address some of them….

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Alex Macgillivray

Bad day for the Internet…. Having been there, I can imagine the dissension @Google to search being warped this way.

– Alexander Macgillivray, general counsel of Twitter, commenting via Twitter about Google’s recent plan to alter search results based on users’ Google+ networks. Macgillivray used to be in-house counsel at Google. Corporate Counsel analyzed his comments yesterday.

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).

At some point you have to get out of here. The question is when – and whither.

A vacation might help, if you could achieve the impossible and take one. My client pulled off a week – seven whole days! – at a Caribbean resort. She flew off to paradise, only to return feeling like a condemned prisoner.

“It made things worse,” she lamented. “Now I remember the outside world.”

Sometimes it’s better to live without that distraction….

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If you’re a bride-to-be — and let’s face it, even if you’re not — you’ve probably seen at least a few episodes of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. The show features the goings-on at Kleinfeld, one of the premier bridal salons in New York City, where staff members assist brides in their quest to find the perfect wedding dress.

Imagine our surprise when we tuned in to watch the show, and caught a glimpse of a beautiful lawyer searching for a wedding gown. But this was not just any lawyer — this lawyer used to have an action-packed career as a stunt woman. These days, though, she gets all of her action inside of a courtroom.

So who is this stunt woman turned lawyer? Why did she decide to make such a drastic career change? And how did she snag her husband, the general counsel to a Fortune 500 company?

All of this and more, including some glamorous wedding photos, after the jump….

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Everyone talks about how soft skills are important for success. Soft skills, also referred to as people skills, EQ, et cetera, are key to influence, persuasion, karaoke smack-talk, and many other aspects of being a savvy lawyer and advocate. They’re essential for both in-house and law firm attorneys. But what are soft skills exactly?

We often know when soft skills are at play, such as when an employee is confronted by a group of hostile workers and is able to calm them down before they go too far and, God forbid, blog their grievances. Figuring out a definition, though, is kind of difficult. I decided to try asking my social media circles: “What’s your definition of soft skills?” I received many informative responses such as: “the ones I don’t have,” “skills our parents never taught us,” “hmm, that’s a hard one,” and “are we keeping this discussion R-rated and under?” Thanks people, very helpful.

Soft skills are difficult to define, in part because it’s easier to talk about them in relation to what they aren’t — hard skills. Hard skills are the technical information and expertise we need to do our job. Soft skills are basically everything else. Hard skills are quantifiable and more readily measurable. State bars test hard skills. Soft skills are behavioral and more difficult to quantify. Dive bars test soft skills. They involve a spectrum of behaviors, including verbal and written communication, effective management, overall leadership, and how to get the IT guy to fix your computer first. In sum, they’re the behaviors we engage in that impact our overall effectiveness on the job….

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Before you make the jump to go in-house, remember that each in-house opportunity is unique and will present different advantages and challenges. As a former in-house attorney who worked for a well-respected investment management company for almost six years, Lateral Link Director Gloria Cannon believes there are several things you should consider in evaluating each in-house opportunity.

They revolve around three primary topics: job responsibilities/duties, compensation, and lifestyle….

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In 2009, Professor Martin H. Redish of Northwestern Law School published a book arguing that class actions are in large part unconstitutional: Wholesale Justice: Constitutional Democracy and the Problem of the Class Action Lawsuit (Stanford Univ. Press 2009). Where is the practicing bar?

I understand that nobody reads law review articles or books published by an academic press. And I wouldn’t condemn any practicing lawyer to reading any issue of a law review from cover to cover. But I don’t think it’s asking too much to insist that lawyers remain gently abreast of the academic literature in their field and deploy new ideas aggressively when scholars propose them. Redish’s book shows why in-house counsel should demand more of their outside lawyers.

This post is a two-fer: I’m going both substantive — by summarizing Redish’s argument about why many class actions are unconstitutional — and pragmatic — by criticizing law firms that ignore ideas springing up in the academy that should be used in litigation. (For me, drafting that two-fer is an unusual trick. As regular readers know, it’s typically hard to find even a single thought tucked into one of my columns.)

What does Redish say about class actions, and how have most law firms been derelict?

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I’m writing this wearing my new bifocals. They take some getting used to after years of regular glasses and contacts. But, after watching me examine small print like I was Mr. Magoo, my wife convinced me that it was time to take a symbolic plunge toward middle age. I admit to no small amount of trepidation at the prospect of wearing “old folks” glasses. But the risk of not seeing properly finally outweighed my vanity, and a change had to be made.

And so it goes with some legal decisions in-house. When faced with a dilemma, you weigh the risks versus rewards, and pull the trigger on what you hope is the right decision.

In a company the size of mine, people have performed risk/reward analyses on legal issues for years, down to the proper placement of semicolons in contract clauses. To borrow from the iPhone ads, yep, there’s a committee for that. We have Lean Six Sigma belts of all colors who are subject matter experts in every facet of our business. There are folks with many years of experience, who own any number of policies from which I am to draw when making decisions. It sounds on paper like filling in the blanks will get you where you need to go, but that is far from reality.

In a perfect world, for my job anyway, a Customer would receive a proposed agreement, see the inherent fairness in the document (and the work that went into carefully crafting all those clauses and semicolons), and sign on the dotted line. But sadly, life isn’t perfect, and I have yet to receive a contract back without so much as a redline….

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He grows strong off the tears of fired workers.

* There’s a new chief legal officer at Morgan Stanley: Eric Grossman, a former Davis Polk partner, replaces Frank Barron, a former Cravath partner (who joined Morgan Stanley not that long ago; if you know more about this odd situation, email us). [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* Will anybody be surprised if it turns out that Ron Paul likes to fire people too? [Politico]

* Et tu, Bill Kristol? [Weekly Standard]

* How will Citizens United affect the political process? We’re starting to find out. [WSJ Law Blog]

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski

* How often does a federal judge get a shout-out in the announcement of a pop music group’s tour? [The Music Network]

* Or how often does a federal judge go on tour with his own band? [Patently-O]

* Maybe the NLRB should stay the course on protecting employees’ rights to organize themselves using social media. [LexisNexis / Labor & Employment Law]

* Most people will just ignore the balanced budget amendment as proposed by Chuck Woolery (yes, that Chuck Woolery), but on the off chance that somebody actually says to you, “You know, Chuck Woolery has some really good ideas,” here’s somebody who took the time to smack the Chuckster down. [Recess Appointment]

He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

It’s playoff time in the National Football League. Fun times. This year’s playoffs are more intense than usual, since Tim Tebow is probably the only conservative who can challenge Obama this fall.

I’m a Tim Tebow convert. Sure, if Tim Tebow were black, he’d be a back-up tight end, but that’s not a reason to hate on Tebow. He wins football games. What more do you want from him? There aren’t a lot of elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Tebow’s not elite, but he wins games. Wouldn’t you rather roll the dice with the Tebow show than going with the practiced mediocrity of Kevin Kolb, or Colt McCoy, or David Garrard? I honestly think that Tebow gets a lot of hate because so many people passed on Tebow to go with guys like that.

Jacksonville did. Tebow is a god in Florida (I mean, Tebow threw for 316 prophetic yards last night, so I do not rule out the possibility that he’s a God everywhere), and he was sitting there in the draft when Jacksonville was starting David Garrard and they passed on him. Now, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a new owner. Coincidence?

In fairness, the Jaguars seem to be a terribly run organization. It appears that even the Jags’ lawyers can’t get it together. The new owner reportedly removed the team’s general counsel for something that looks like an unforgivable error for a lawyer to make….

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