Success — at a law firm, in-house, or in any professional services environment — requires a certain mindset. The mindset is this: “My job is not to take an order from my client (or boss) and fill that order, but rather to achieve things.” Or, to put it differently, strive to execute projects, not simply to perform tasks.
Let’s start with a silly example: You ask someone to call the plumber to get the sink fixed.
Three days later, you realize that you haven’t heard back on this subject, so you ask, “Did you call the plumber?”
You hear back, “Oh, yes. I did.”
“The plumber hasn’t returned my call.”
Do you feel as though you received intelligent help with this project? Of course not — because the project was to get the sink fixed. You didn’t really care whether your helper called the plumber, or e-mailed the plumber, or attracted the plumber’s attention with smoke signals. So long as the sink got fixed, the project was completed.
But your helper chose not to think about the project and instead focused only on the task — making a phone call, whether or not anything came of it. Your helper completed the task and ignored the actual project.
Undertaking tasks, rather than executing projects, is exactly the way to fail in a professional services environment. Here’s an example, from the legal world….
Egad! The General Counsel just announced that your target for next year will be to handle 20 percent of all outside legal spend on an alternative fee basis! What do you do?
You can’t just do flat fee agreements! What happens if you agree to pay too much, and you’ve given away your client’s money? And success-based fees are a great idea, but they’re impossible to calculate! How does anyone know at the start of a piece of (non-routine) litigation what the case is worth? Since you don’t know the value of the matter, you can’t set the target from which you’ll judge success.
What’s an in-house lawyer to do?
Calm down. Here’s a way to ease into alternative fee agreements that will put neither you nor your outside firms at risk, will educate you slowly over time, and will meet your internal objectives….
There’s slow at the office. Then there’s moribund. Like, stick a fork in it, parrot in the Monty Python skit, no longer viable, kaput, over and out, flatlining… dead dead dead.
Like you haven’t recorded a billable hour in weeks. Like you show up at 10:30 a.m., slide your Kindle under your computer monitor, and try to look busy while you read John LeCarre novels. Then leave at 6 p.m. – or whenever the coast is clear and you think you can get away with it.
We all know having nothing to do at a big law firm is better than being busy. Being busy is really, really bad…
It’s not just the federal government that’s desperate for money. The states are, too.
One way that states are looking to fill their coffers is by auditing unclaimed property on companies’ books — so-called “escheat audits.” This isn’t the world’s sexiest topic, but an in-house lawyer might serve a valuable purpose by double-checking corporate escheat policies.
In the financial services industry, many companies must deal with unclaimed deposits and securities. But even outside that sector, most companies find themselves holding unclaimed property, in the form of uncashed vendor or payroll checks, undistributed benefits payments, or the like. Complying with escheat laws may pose a challenge.
States are now doing two things related to escheat laws to increase their revenue. First, they’re shortening the amount of time that a holder can retain unclaimed funds before turning those funds over to the state. Second, states are accelerating their use of “escheat audits” — auditing corporate books to see whether companies have complied with the applicable laws.
This has recently become big business — with implications for in-house counsel….
To judge by the accoutrements of “the profession,” lawyers, as a group, maintain an inflated self-image. They think they’re all that. It’s easy to get sucked into this mindset – especially fresh out of law school. Perhaps, when you’re not “thinking like a lawyer,” you’ve spent a few minutes admiring the little “Esq.” printed after your name on an envelope from school or a law firm — or some company in Parsippany trying to sell you a genuine mahogany and brass pen holder featuring a statue of “blind justice” for only $59.99 with free shipping.
Back when I passed the bar, I was offered the option by New York State to purchase a printed document – “suitable for hanging” – to memorialize the event. I figured what the heck and blew the twenty-five bucks. The “parchment” arrived in a cardboard tube, and it was huge – like a royal proclamation. I felt ridiculous, rolled it back up and stuck it in a closet, where it remains.
It’s hard to imagine accountants (who usually make more than lawyers), or bankers (who always make more than lawyers) laying on the pretension to quite the degree lawyers take for granted…
Several readers have sent e-mails asking for advice on how to deliver bad news to clients.
Here’s proof that, if ye shall ask, ye may receive.
Think first about the “bad news” that you’re delivering. You’re not a physician, so you’re not looking a person in the eye and explaining that he or she has just six months to live. That’s really bad news, and that’s hard to deliver. Your job is easy.
Even in the universe of bad news delivered by lawyers, if you’re working with a corporate client, you’re probably getting off easy. You’re not reporting to the client that “the Supreme Court just rejected the application for a stay of your execution” or “the appellate court just affirmed the conviction, so you’ll be doing the time.” The bad news that civil litigators are delivering to corporate clients just isn’t that significant. So calm down.
I’m also ruling out other bad news that folks deliver to, or receive from, in-house counsel. I’m not thinking about telling employees that they’ve been laid off or fired or delivering unhappy performance reviews. I’m not thinking about how you deliver bad news to your own law firm or to a court. And I’m ruling out situations where the bad news results from your own error, rather than an adverse decision by a court. (It’s much harder to tell a client, for example, “I blew the statute of limitations, and your claim is now time-barred,” than it is to tell a client, say, “The court denied our motion for summary judgment.”) So maybe I’m cheating here, by limiting the discussion, but the optimal way to deliver bad news will vary with the situation.
So what’s the best way to deliver news of an adverse judicial decision to a corporate client?
A lawyer who lacks self-confidence feels compelled to run down every issue, make every argument, and depose every witness. After all, if you choose to make an educated guess about the importance of a tangential issue, or whether to omit a plausible (but likely losing) argument from a brief, or whether to incur the cost of deposing a just-barely-relevant witness, all may be lost. You might lose the case, and the recriminations would never stop. Better to leave no stone unturned than to leave yourself at risk of being second-guessed.
That’s one reason to hire lawyers with a little self-confidence. They’re willing to take intelligent risks where it makes sense to do so.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: Compliance due diligence.
If your company’s considering an acquisition, you can simply outsource the entire compliance due diligence process. Hire Big Firm, ask it to handle due diligence, and wait for the results. No muss, no fuss.
Associates at big law firms don’t normally burn out right away. They arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, raring to go. This is their moment! Grasp the golden ring!
If you look closely, though, you’ll notice a few poor souls who burn out immediately – sometimes within a few weeks. These folks look awful almost from Day One, dread coming to work, don’t talk to the others, can’t sleep and wonder how to get out – like, immediately.
That’s because they’ve been sexually harassed.
I know. Sexual harassment is a drag of a topic, the stuff of tedious lectures by gender theorists and “Human Resource professionals.” Nothing new to say, just standard material: wince-inducing scenarios, tired platitudes about respect and crossing the line and what’s appropriate in a workplace blah blah blah…boring, scary, boring.
I hear about sexual harassment all the time from my clients, so it’s a little less boring for me, and a lot more real. There is stuff worth talking about. But I’ll keep it quick.
It’s tough to “lateral up” at a big law firm. Since I just invented the phrase “lateraling up,” I suppose I should define it: It’s when a fairly senior lawyer asks an older lawyer to help on a project.
If you’re 40 years old and just landed a small- or medium-sized matter, it’s hard to add a 55-year-old partner to your team. It might make sense to add the senior partner for the sake of either the client (the older partner has special expertise) or the firm (the older partner is competent to do the job and has time available to help), but it’s nonetheless tricky to execute.
In the litigation environment, if the client is looking to the 40-year-old to supervise the case, the 55-year-old can’t find a role that makes sense. The older partner can’t take the lead, because that’s the younger lawyer’s task, and the older lawyer can’t not take the lead, because senior people somehow don’t do that at law firms.
The same is true of corporate matters. The older partner can’t do the deal, because the client asked the junior lawyer to do it. And the older partner can’t carry the bags (to use the milder form of what the corporate lawyers really say) for a junior partner on the deal.
Please note the limitations on what I just wrote….
I’m an in-house attorney at a large company. I used to be an associate at a big law firm, but was a stealth layoff victim and had little contact with the firm after that (and I’ll admit, I’m still somewhat bitter about the layoff). My current employer still works with my former firm sometimes, though the firm didn’t do anything to help me get my current position.
Recently, the firm realized that (1) I once worked there, and (2) I now work at a client. However, they failed to remember why or how I left, and thus have been contacting me as a firm “alumnus” to invite me to client and industry-type things, as well as firm events.
How should I respond to this attention, especially since I’m in a relatively small legal community, and my bosses do have some relationship with the firm?
People seem to have online amnesia these days. You can be sworn enemies with someone in real life, but somehow it’s perfectly natural to want to add them on Facebook. Just had a soul-crushing breakup with an asshat? Start monitoring your inbox for his LinkedIn request. It’s really unbelievable. Some people just don’t understand that grudges are for life, and they’re held offline and online…
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When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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