Somehow, because I’m working in-house and writing this column, I’ve become the adviser to the disaffected. A correspondent now asks: “I’ve worked at a Biglaw firm for several years, am at the end of my rope, and am interviewing for an in-house job next week. How will an interview for an in-house job differ from a Biglaw interview?”
I have three reactions: First, the interview may not be different at all. The in-house lawyers who are interviewing you may be veterans of Biglaw, and they may not have changed their interview styles when they changed jobs. Being qualified and pleasant may be plenty to land the job, as it is at many large law firms that are hiring new associates wholesale.
But the interview may be different in two ways that you should consider….
As you probably know, the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since the Nixon Administration. I’m no kind of hockey fan, but as a Boston sports fan, I took a passing interest in it. Which is to say that I watched Game 7 on Wednesday. Mine was a short ride on the bandwagon. (I mean, it’s June. It’s baseball time.)
But Boston is a big sports town, having now won all three major North American sports championships (plus hockey, see what I did there?) in just a seven-year span. The closest any other city has come to that is 11 years (and that’s New York, with two teams in each sport).
But to be fair, the Bruins do have many fans in the Boston area. (Although apparently an entire season was recently canceled because of labor strife, and I’m pretty sure no one noticed.) Many of those fans made their way into Boston on Saturday to watch the Bruins’ victory boat. Police estimated that a million people came into the city to celebrate. Many of them parked in my suburban neighborhood, because we live near the end of one of the subway lines. Because that’s what you want: scads of drunken hockey fans parking in front of your house. Could have been worse, though; in Vancouver, the fans of the runner-up Canucks basically set the place on fire.
But some fans had trouble getting into town because of spotty rail service, and they weren’t too happy about it. What important lesson does this hold for small-firm lawyers?
I’ve received a couple of e-mails from associates at large firms saying that these folks sit at their desks dreaming about having in-house jobs: One client instead of many competing for your time. More manageable workload. A broader range of work. Less stress. An opportunity to think strategically instead of wallowing in minutiae. No more billable hours. No more time sheets. Bliss!
Please, these correspondents ask, write a column explaining the tribulations of in-house counsel.
This is tricky. First, the in-house life is pretty good. I wouldn’t want to understate the advantages. Second, I don’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity when I publish these columns. If I faced any tribulations (and I don’t, of course), this wouldn’t be a wise forum in which to let loose. Third, my own personal experience doesn’t prove very much generally, and I hear a wide range of varied reactions from others who work in-house.
My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:
For months, the “career” consisted of one-third idleness, one-third word-processing, and one-third pointless research. That morphed over time into “managing” doc review, which morphed into doing doc review, which translated into odious hours staring at odious documents on a computer and clicking “responsive/relevant” or “privileged” or some euphemism for “embarrassing.” According to rumors at her firm, there’s juicy stuff squirreled away in electronic nooks and crannies – most notoriously, emails from execs’ hiring hookers. To date, my client’s experience of “doing doc review” has matched the edge-of-your-seat excitement of watching drywall compound discharge moisture.
“There are days I want to scream, ‘Who are we fooling?!’” she remonstrated. (Granted, there wasn’t much use remonstrating with me, since I’m her therapist. Sometimes you just need to remonstrate – to demonstrate you can remonstrate.) “This isn’t a career – it isn’t even a job. It’s a joke. Every day I think about quitting.”
Pile-o’-crap syndrome: We’ve all been victimized by it.
In private practice, it arrives in the form of four boxes of documents (containing about 2000 pages each) delivered to your door with a single handwritten note of explanation: “Here are the documents you’ll need to prepare Smith for his deposition on Wednesday.”
What does that note really say? “Here’s a pile of crap. I can’t be bothered. You deal with it.”
For an in-house lawyer, the pile o’ crap arrives in the form of a one-sentence e-mail responding to your request for a brief description of a particular lawsuit that’s headed to trial: “As you requested, I’ve attached my 100-page, single-spaced summary of the discovery record in this case.”
What does that e-mail really say? “Here’s a pile of crap. I can’t be bothered. You deal with it.”
In business environments everywhere, pile-o’-crap syndrome arrives in the form of e-mails that say only either (1) “see attached letter” or (2) “see attached chain of e-mails.”
What do those communications really say? “Here’s a pile of crap. I can’t be bothered. You figure it out.”
I recently heard a panel of judges speak about e-discovery issues. Their opinions on several subjects varied, but on one subject they agreed unanimously: Clawback provisions under Federal Rule of Evidence 502 are valuable tools in most significant litigation, but they remain rarely used.
This piqued my interest, so I asked several in-house litigators (not necessarily at the place where I work) whether they routinely seek FRE 502 clawback provisions in their cases. The in-house lawyers do not. And I asked whether outside counsel routinely recommend seeking those provisions. Not surprisingly (because the in-house folks aren’t using them), outside counsel do not.
The judges think clawback provisions are a good idea; in most situations, it strikes me that the judges are right. So what are FRE 502 clawback provisions, and why are inside and outside counsel routinely missing this trick?
My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep; it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., lying in bed — mostly, playing Angry Birds.
Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time,” even for sleep, was out of the question….
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…
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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