In-House Counsel

Thumbs up, managing partners!

April Fools’ Day is a terrible day to be in this business. Every tip that comes in requires an extra layer of scrutiny because even longstanding, trusted sources are trying to troll. It’s really not all that funny to make up false but entirely believable stories and pass them off as real. That’s why the Daily Currant isn’t funny.

Which is why when Citi Private Bank issued its First Quarter report on the confidence of managing partners across the legal landscape and declared that managing partners have a rosy outlook, it earned a double take on this end. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that managing partners were telling the American Lawyer that it was all gloom and doom on the horizon?

So is this result real? It is, but the headline isn’t the end of the story….

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Meetings — you gotta love ‘em.

Especially if you go in-house.

I didn’t appreciate it before I moved in-house, but law firms are remarkably meeting-free. I suspect this is for three reasons: First, law firms are not public companies, so they aren’t obligated to perform many bureaucratic tasks the law imposes on public companies. Second, most law firms bill by the hour; when time is literally money, few people tolerate non-productive meetings. Finally, law firms have flat organizational structures. Although partners cooperate to varying degrees within firms, partners (or, at a minimum, partners who generate business) are largely independent actors. A partner is retained for a new piece of business, assembles a team to handle the work, and starts working. The team is typically fairly small (two or three lawyers are plenty to handle most legal matters; a team of 25 lawyers is large, even at a big firm; a team of 100 means you’re defending the largest of the mass torts). There’s no real organizational structure within the firm. A partner in charge of a practice or an office may technically oversee another partner’s work, but “oversight” in that sense means only making sure the partner’s bringing in enough business and billing enough hours. “Oversight” does not mean, for example, having weekly one-on-one meetings with the partner to manage his performance; no senior partner would stand for that nonsense (and waste of time).

Corporations are different. They’re publicly traded. They’re often much larger than law firms. They’re divided into operational divisions with pyramidal structures, with many people reporting to fewer people who report to fewer people still who report to someone near the top. Put that all together, and it means meetings. And meetings. And meetings. And meetings. In fact, to my eye, there are four types of corporate meetings . . . .

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Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read the rest of his law-related poetry over here.

I realize the title of this column may seem a little incongruous given it is not even published on a Friday, but I hope this week’s efforts are nevertheless relevant for many lawyers, for whom TGIF is pretty much meaningless anyway…

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Aasif Mandvi accepting his Justice in Action Award last night at the AALDEF 40th anniversary celebration.

Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the 40th anniversary celebration of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). Forty years is a remarkable milestone, so everyone was in a celebratory spirit. Here’s my account of the evening, which also honored several leaders within the Asian-American community….

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As we noted in Morning Docket, there’s a new survey out about corporate America’s legal spending in 2013. As noted by Am Law Daily, the LegalView Index “is based on actual dollars paid by clients, not on surveys of law firms” — so perhaps it’s more reliable than many of the other studies.

What does the survey say? Here are some highlights:

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Am I wrong to be suspicious?

I knew a defense lawyer whose online bio said that he had “spent more than a year of his life in trial.” But I also knew the facts: He had tried precisely one case in his life; it lasted more than a year; at the end of the year, the jury awarded more than the plaintiff demanded in closing argument.

Despite having spent “more than a year of his life in trial,” I’m not certain he was a proven trial lawyer.

Google the words “consummate trial lawyer” or “quintessential trial lawyer” or the like. (The actual bio may use a synonym to those superlatives; I’m concealing my victim here.) One bio will pop up from a guy who has, in fact, tried a few cases. But he lost them all. He hasn’t secured a defense verdict at a jury trial since the early 1980′s. (He did manage to reverse on appeal several of his trial-level defeats, but I’m not sure that’s too comforting to someone who’s looking to retain trial counsel.)

These examples, of course, come from the guys who are being honest: The words contained in their bios are technically true. I’m not even talking about the folks who brazenly lie.

Given the skepticism that puffery breeds, how can you write an online bio that actually persuades a reader?

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Kristen Saban

* The Fortune 500′s top women lawyers have a message for you. There is a ton of female talent out there, and you’ll probably have a woman at the head of your legal department very, very soon — whether you like it or not. [Corporate Counsel]

* Cornell Law’s new dean would definitely be a contender if we still ran those Law School Dean Hotties contests. Welcome, Eduardo Peñalver. First task: resolve the tie at #13 in the latest U.S. News law school rankings. [Cornell Chronicle]

* Cleveland-Marshall Law has a new “risk-free” degree. Just go for one year. If you hate it, you can drop out, but you’ll have a master of legal studies — which is better than one-third of a J.D. [National Law Journal]

* Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, the man who has emphatically and repeatedly denied that he’s Bitcoin’s creator, hired a law firm to continue to spread his denials across the globe. Wow. Such lawyer. [Newsmax]

* This catfight could use some mud: A lawyer for Sarah Grimes, the sorority girl who came to blows with Nick Saban’s daughter and sued, pledged to take his client’s case to the state’s highest court. [AL.com]

I don’t do politics in this column.

For two good reasons: First, Lat asked me to write about life as an in-house lawyer or, at a minimum, an in-house lawyer’s perception of outside firms. If I wrote about politics, I’d be way off the mark. Second, I work at the world’s leading insurance broker for law firms. If I wrote about politics — no matter which side I took — I’d offend half my readers. Some of those offended readers would complain to their brokers, and I’d soon have a phalanx of brokers with pitchforks storming my office door.

But I’m throwing caution (and Lat’s instructions about topicality) to the wind today, and I’m posing a question that struck me recently: Set your mind back to 1983, the year in which I graduated from law school. Suppose, in 1983, someone posed this question to you:

Look into the future. When will each of these events occur? (1) We’ll elect an African-American President of the United States; (2) states will begin legalizing gay marriage; and (3) states will begin legalizing the use of marijuana. Which will occur first, second, and third, and in what years?

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Hello loyal ATL readers. I’m back! I’ve been on somewhat of a forced vacation during this past year. That is, of course, if by “forced vacation” we mean “involved in a tragic scenario where I barely made it out alive.” To put it lightly.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was cruising on the highway on a clear Sunday morning. I took a bite of my breakfast sandwich and started to place it down onto the area between the front car seats that’s intended to hold things. But as my hand descended, I felt the sandwich start to come out of the wrapper. I looked down and fumbled around with the thing to prevent it from becoming a big freaking mess all over the car. It was literally just a few seconds and I didn’t even realize that I was no longer looking out the front windshield.

The car drifted toward the right and I jolted when the front right corner of my car hit the highway barrier. My first thought was, “Geez, I’m not gonna be able to hide that one from Michael.” The car then careened over toward the left side. I tried frantically to steer it in the opposite direction, but it had no impact on the leftward course of the car. It crashed mightily into the cement median and came to a dead stop.

Needless to say, it was not a good morning. I mean, I only had one bite of my sandwich and I did have a big mess all over the car…

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Remember the pushmi-pullyu?

It can teach you a lesson about the law.

Years ago, I heard the frustrated 60-year-old head of an IP department at a big firm complain: “Aren’t there any other IP lawyers at this firm? Why do I have to decide everything?”

The problem, of course, was that his subordinates were on the wrong end of the pushmi-pullyu: They were pulling the senior guy back instead of pushing him forward. My sense is that the average lawyer, either at a firm or in-house, suffers from the same affliction: The average lawyer stands at the . . . er . . . back mouth of the beast.

I recently published a self-assessment test to help you learn whether you were a bad litigator. I’ve cleverly designed another self-assessment test, this one to gauge whether you advance the cause or obstruct it when you work on a legal matter. Here’s the test:

Look at the last email that you sent reporting on a legal development and seeking guidance on the next step forward. How does that email end? For many of you, the last sentence includes one of these two phrases, which prove that you stand at the pullyu end of the beast . . .

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