In-House Counsel

Willkie Farr is getting raided.

But it’s not an entirely bad thing. Instead of losing talent to a rival law firm, Willkie is losing talent to a top client. Bloomberg LP has decided to beef up its in-house presence, and it’s doing it with a boatload of Willkie attorneys.

Is this a good thing for Willkie? The firm will remain Bloomberg’s outside counsel, but there could be much less work coming from the client.

And Willkie did feel the need to send an email to all their people to make sure nobody freaked out….

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Does your company hold employee “social events”? These range from bigger events like town halls, summer picnics, and holiday parties, to smaller, more intimate socials like Friday afternoon ice cream sundae breaks, cubicle-decorating contests, and themed get-togethers. They all have the same goals — encourage a team atmosphere, help boost morale, and announce company information.

Do you think of these events as times for you to relax, stuff yourself with free food, and take a break from work? Do you have a tendency to blow off some of these events as fluffy wastes of time (obviously the lawyers who show up for these aren’t as busy as you are)? If so, that’s a big mistake.

My take is that these “social” events should generally be viewed as “work,” not breaks from work. They’re fantastic opportunities for you to advance your in-house legal career, so just relaxing and having fun at these events means you’re missing out on a lot. Also, let’s be serious here, they’re not really all that fun. I mean, Mardi Gras = fun. A night on the town with your best buddies = fun. Cocktail weenies in the lobby next to the copy room = meh.

So forget the fun, and get to work at the socials!

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At age five, when I was driving him to kindergarten one morning:

“Dad, you’re a lawyer, right?”

“Yes, Jere.”

“So you’ve read all the laws?”

“Oh, no, Jeremy. No one could ever read all the laws. There are way too many laws for anyone to read them all.”

Pause.

“Hey, Dad: How are you supposed to obey all the laws if you haven’t read them all?”

Longer pause.

“That’s a good question, son. When you get home tonight, ask your mother.”

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So you’ve decided to take the plunge in-house. You have likely had to accept a pay cut. Not the worst thing to have happen, given that you’re about to get your life back. But most in-house counsel do not make the mid-six figure salaries of senior associates, or junior partners.

You can over time, but in general, your salary’s going to drop in exchange for the sanity of a schedule. A “what,” you say? That’s right, a set schedule. In my position, I am aware that quarter end, and especially year end, are going to be extremely hectic times, but the luxury of being able to plan for them is worth every minute. Over the past few years, I have: had dinner with my family most evenings; coached various sports teams for my children; scheduled, and taken, full vacations (sans Blackberry); and enjoyed the holidays, save for New Year’s Eve.

Do I miss firm life? No, I do not.

Do I wish I was making more money?

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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).

If it’s happened to you, keep reading. If it hasn’t, keep reading anyway. It happens a lot.

It begins with the standard set-up. You feel trapped. Hate your life. Nerves shot. Self-esteem shredded. You know the drill: biglaw.

That’s when the dæmon lover appears. It doesn’t end well.

There’s biglaw hanky-panky and biglaw sexual harassment. There’s also biglaw romantic infatuation. It’s the one you talk about least because you least feel like talking about it. Once you reemerge on the other side and wish it never happened, you never feel like talking about it again.

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It’s hard to create career paths for in-house lawyers.

It’s easy to describe the career path for a junior lawyer at a law firm (even though the path may be illusory for many): Work hard and well and become a partner; work harder and better and become a richer and more powerful partner. Retire. Die.

So long as law firms are growing, that path appears to be available to some percentage of junior lawyers, and all can strive to follow it.

Corporations are different. There’s one general counsel, who probably has six or eight people reporting to her. Unless the general counsel moves on, retires, or dies, none of the lieutenants is moving up. The lieutenants in turn all have six or eight people reporting to them. Unless a lieutenant moves on, retires, or dies, none of the sub-lieutenants is moving up.

What can you do to create a career path for someone who reports to you in a corporation (other than eating poorly and exercising little, which might create an unexpected opening in the ranks)?

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La vengeance se mange très-bien froide. Or as a Klingon might say, “revenge is a dish best served cold.”

I’m pretty sure that the administrators at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles didn’t think they were walking into a smackdown when they sent out an email to alumni asking them to update their employment statuses. But smacked they were, down on their heads, as one student’s epic, slightly rambling response to the innocent request just tore up the school for its behavior towards recent graduates.

And this comes from a student who seems to be doing well, despite the challenging economy. You want to know the best way to “get back” at your law school, if you so desire? Send them an email that says: “I am going to be very wealthy here, and I will not be giving a dime to Loyola.”

Time for the cold revenge of living well?

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A lot of people ask me how I ended up in this in-house gig. Oh fine, nobody has asked, but darnit, I’m gonna tell you anyway. And I’ll even include a couple of tips that I think helped me. I’ll assume you’re already familiar with a lot of basic interview tips, such as doing your research, preparing a great résumé, and not picking your nose in front of the receptionist, so I’ll avoid mentioning those.

I like to call the interview process I had for my current job the Shortest Interview Process Ever (SIPE, for short). If you’ve worked at a company before, you’ve probably noticed that companies absolutely love, love, love acronyms and use them all the time. Just FYI, your ability to learn acronym-speak is directly proportional to your success as an in-house lawyer, so feel free to start making up your own and using them on your BFFs!

At one point, after a few years in Biglaw, I called a recruiter I had used before and asked if there were any jobs out there. The recruiter was not happy to hear from me. But this was reasonable because, a few years earlier, he had helped to get me a job offer — that I didn’t take. At that time, I had four job offers (obviously, this wasn’t during the economic hellhole that we’re in right now) and decided to go with one other than his. So understandably, he wasn’t a happy camper to hear from me this time around….

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If you ask a small-firm attorney what is the advantage of a small firm over Biglaw, most will tell you that smaller size makes firms more nimble and better able to adapt to client needs and market changes. It stands to reason, then, that small firms could revolutionize the law firm model. But what changes should small firms make? And how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

To answer these questions, I spoke to Mae O’Malley, founder of Paragon Legal, and a visionary when it comes to offering legal services. Paragon Legal is one of the fastest growing alternative legal models. Their model is to offer highly-qualified attorneys (with a minimum of 8 years of experience) to Fortune 500 companies, akin to a contract-attorney arrangement.

This model allows the client to obtain top-notch legal help for a fraction of the cost of Biglaw. The arrangement is also appealing to high-caliber lawyers, particularly women, who look to balance their professional growth with their family obligations. In light of the model’s success, it’s not surprising that Fortune recently featured O’Malley as an individual “fixing a broken legal industry.”

What advice does Mae O’Malley have for reforming legal workplaces?

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We recently had to hire a new lawyer to help with our litigation in the United States. Not surprisingly, that got me to thinking: What are we actually looking for in lawyers that we hire?

Some companies litigate their own cases in-house, writing their own briefs, taking depositions, and trying cases. If that’s your company’s model, then you’ll need to hire lawyers with a certain skill set.

My joint operated that way at times in the past, but now uses in-house lawyers to manage litigation. We hire outside counsel to represent us, and the in-house lawyers typically supervise the work being done by outside lawyers. In that environment, who’s the right person to hire?

Even in that more restricted world, the answer isn’t immediately clear….

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