Advice

First, a shameless plug. Then, back to business.

I’ll be giving my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law at The University of Michigan Law School on Monday, March 5, and again at Northwestern University Law School on Tuesday, March 27. If there’s a chance your organization might be interested in that talk, and you’ll be in Ann Arbor or Chicago at the right times, please let me know. We’ll sneak you into the room, and you can get a sense of the topics that I discuss.

Now, the business: You are not a potted plant! When you transmit something, either within a law firm or to (or within) a corporate law department, add value. You are not — or should not be — simply a conduit through which things flow. You don’t impress people with your timidity, and you may well annoy people.

What am I thinking of?

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Landing a Summer Public Interest Legal Job: hotsexyskippy@yahoo.com is not an appropriate email address to have on your résumé. LOL.

PSLawNet, offering job search advice over Twitter.

Complete honesty is such a dangerous thing.

I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m posing three questions to myself today. First, why might a lawyer at a law firm choose to write articles? Second, what topics should lawyers write about, and where should they publish the articles? Finally, why might an in-house lawyer choose to write?

The honest truth is that outside lawyers choose to write for many, varied reasons. In-house lawyers might also choose to write for many reasons, but those reasons are different and fewer. Across the board, authors’ motivations for writing will be mixed.

Do I have a right to speak on the subject of publications? My credentials, in a nutshell, are these: Three books; twelve law review articles; two book chapters; about 70 other, shorter articles (in places ranging from The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune to Pharmaceutical Executive and Litigation); and maybe 600 blog posts (roughly 500 at Drug and Device Law and north of 100 here). Call me nuts (and I may well be), but I’ve spent a professional lifetime doing a ton of “recreational” legal writing.

Why did I do it? Should you?

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There’s a really funny post up on Constitutional Daily, in which the protagonist — who holds a J.D. from NYU Law and was laid off from Biglaw during the recession — recounts his inability to secure a job at Target. It got me thinking of that other great lie that law schools tell incoming law students: “Yada yada, you can do anything with a law degree… also, I’d like to interest you in partial ownership of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

But many J.D. holders have found out the hard way that holding a law degree only opens doors to “law” jobs. They aren’t degrees of general utility.

If anything, they close more doors than they open….

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Here’s the sad rule: If it comes across your desk, then you’re responsible for it.

Period.

That’s the rule at law firms. It was my rule when I worked at a firm, and it’s the rule that I now impose on outside lawyers. Thus, when I was a partner, I did not tolerate this excuse after an associate sent me a crappy draft brief, supposedly ready to be sent to a client for review: “I know the draft is not very good. But I didn’t write it. Local counsel did.”

Yeah? So what am I supposed to do with the crappy draft? Send it to the client with a cover note explaining that we propose to file the attached terrible brief, and we should be excused from blame because local counsel wrote it? I don’t think so. If a brief crosses my desk, then it’s my brief. I’m responsible for it. It has to be good.

So, too, with you: When the brief hit your desk, you became responsible for it. The draft brief that you send to me is your best possible work product; there are no excuses.

The same thing is true in-house . . .

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Oh, you’re all running here now. You saw the title. Here you come. Click click click. It’s all you want to know. And by you, I mean those who claim to love Biglaw, but would jump to your own place or a smaller firm in a second if you “could make the same money.”

I know.

I know when you call me, when you come to my office to discuss the “possibility of leaving,” that it’s the only thing on your mind. Sure, you want your name on the door, more freedom, more client contact. But you just have one real question. One real fear. One real concern. One thing you need to convince your better half of before you make “the jump.”

Can I make the same money?

Here’s the answer….

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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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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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Tom Wallerstein

When I started my firm, several mentors gave me the same advice: Don’t work for free. It’s easy to see the problem with working for free. Giving away what you’re trying to sell isn’t exactly in the business plan. Unfortunately, this sage advice can only really be learned the hard way, through experience.

Working for free can arise in many different ways. The most obvious example is a client who wants you to represent him but can only promise to pay you later.

Even if your gut tells you that taking on that client is a bad idea, this can be surprisingly tempting to a new firm or solo practice. For starters, there is such a thrill with getting your first client, or your first “real” client, or your first big client, or your first whatever client, that the excitement can cloud your better judgment. You will be tempted to overlook the red flags that you will not be paid for your work….

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It’s one of the biggest cons going around. I cringe whenever I hear it. A lawyer laughs and says, “I’m not good with numbers — that’s why I became a lawyer.”

On the surface, it seems to make sense; it sounds like it should be true. For some, it might even be true. After all, the last time we used quadratic equations was back when loafers on bare feet were considered desirable footwear (thanks Don Johnson).

In-house lawyers should never, ever say they’re bad at math — even those who really are. After all, business people are preoccupied with numbers. As an in-house lawyer, telling a business person that you’re bad at math is like telling them you don’t care about the most important thing that everyone else in your company cares about, and if your company is publicly listed, what every investor in your company cares about — the company’s numbers….

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