If you work as a corporate lawyer at a law firm, you aren’t usually making distinctions between legal issues and business issues. There are just issues. You spot all of the potential ones that you can come up with (hoping to God that those are most of the ones out there), share them with your client, and your client decides how to proceed from there.
If you work as corporate lawyer at a company, you need to keep these two types of issues straight for a couple of reasons. First, the type of issue you’re dealing with will determine how much authority you have on the matter. Your authority on a legal issue? A respectable amount. Your authority on a business issue? Diddly squat. If even that much.
Second, it’s important that you know the difference because, a lot of the time, your business people won’t have a clue. Especially some of the more junior-level people. And it’s your pleasant duty to inform them…
Holiday season is in full blast now, so what better time to discuss traditional end-of-year topics like performance reviews, gifting at the office, and what it’s like to advise business clients. Okay, so maybe that last one’s not quite the merrily common topic at around this time. But I’m already getting weary of all this have a happy holiday however it is you celebrate, and here are also some brand-spanking new year wishes thing, so bah. This is what we’re talking about today.
How companies expect their lawyers to advise them differs among companies. If you’re lucky, you work among people who appreciate and value lawyers for both their legal advice and their business sensibilities. (And if you’re really lucky, among people who are strangely okay with you blogging on an occasionally gossipy legal news site.) Business people who listen to your legal and business advice may respect that you work across several business units and get to see stuff that the individual groups don’t. Or they may just blindly trust you. That works too (for you).
At other companies, business people just want the in-house lawyer to stay focused on talking about legal issues and only legal issues, and don’t want to hear about any of the non-legal perspectives the lawyer may have to offer. And of course, there are other business people who don’t even really care for listening to any of the legal stuff (this may pose a bit of a problem if lawsuits or jail are some of the things they are interested in avoiding).
To be fair, the level of appreciation that business people have for their counsel’s advice, whether legal or non-legal, depends a lot on the individual lawyer’s capabilities….
Business relationships are kind of like marriages. In the beginning, everyone’s excited, and life is fresh and full of promise. “Things are really going to change around here,” you think. You know that you’re going to need to make some adjustments, some compromises, but it’s all going to be worth it. You ignore small warning signs, such as the fact that your partner sometimes seems to spend a lot on discretionary items. (But at least he only bought nine pairs of Prada shoes during the trip to Italy instead of the 23 he really wanted.)
Then, as you settle into a routine, you may find that, well… things aren’t exactly as you had expected. There are minor annoyances — things that make working together take more time, communication, and effort than you had thought.
And unfortunately, like some marriages, one or more parties figure out that the benefits of the relationship don’t outweigh the negatives, and decide to part ways. You decide that 18,000 pairs of designer shoes is definitely an indication of a problem. Sometimes, the decision to separate is fairly mutual. Other times, one partner is desperately clawing out from under a pile of fancy footwear that the other only continues to build up.
Also like many marriages, at the start of the business relationship, nobody wants to think about how it will end. Ninety-nine percent of engaged couples won’t touch a prenuptial agreement with a ten-foot pole because they absolutely KNOW that they’re truly in love, and no way are they in the group of the more than 50% of married couples who will part before death.
Similarly, nobody likes to think about the business “prenup” (i.e., the termination/transition provisions in a contract) for more than a few microseconds. For example, there’s the uber-lazy version of a catchall survival provision that makes it into some contracts. It basically says as follows: “Everything in this agreement that’s intended to survive termination will survive”….
In Feeling the Kumbaya (Part I), we looked at how different the perspectives of business clients and in-house lawyers can be. Below are a few techniques that have helped me and my clients to feel the Kumbaya for each other (or at least have helped them to not think I’m only a total loser who has nothing better to do than change all of the commas in a list after a colon to semicolons).
Prioritize. I used to suspect that there was something about going in-house that made perfectly good law firm attorneys develop permanent amnesia when it came to good drafting. It was the strangest thing. Even my husband, a supposedly respectable corporate law firm attorney, after going in-house, suddenly started to let minor errors appear in his emails. My judgment of him was quick and deliberate. He would sometimes mistakenly use “there” instead of “their,” for God’s sakes! What lawyer does that?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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Additional information can be located on our website, at www.sgtlaw.com.