David Mowry

I realized this week my one-year anniversary writing for Above the Law had come and gone. For some of you, it may seem like I have way overstayed my welcome, and for others (especially the hundred or so who sent heartfelt letters to my Gmail account) it may have gone quickly. For me, the year has been, well, interesting.

I “applied” for the position of writing about in-house life in August 2011. To their credit, or not, Lat and Elie asked me to write about what life is like as in-house counsel. I figured that the opportunity would help keep my writing skills sharp, get my name around, and offer me an opportunity to interact with others in the same arena, or those who wanted to go in-house. All have come to fruition.

I looked through some of my past columns, and like other writers, am frankly embarrassed by some, and proud of others. Candidly, it is difficult to write a weekly column on a topic such as in-house life. I am awestruck that Mark Herrmann can do it twice weekly. You can discuss how you got here, why you got here, and how others can get here. Then, for the Biglaw folks, you talk about how to get work from here, how to write RFPs for here, and so on. Finally, you can discuss what you do, why you do it, and give some anecdotes about your failures and successes.

You can throw in some gossip from your stint as a clerk and in Biglaw, and some very veiled gossip about in-house life. You can even approach the precipice of being honest about your career, all the while keeping one hand behind you grasping to a root, as you must always remember that this is a highly public forum….

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Last night’s debate was fun to watch, and would have been that much better if the president had actually followed his instincts and decked Mitt Romney, à la “Two Tribes.” There was a lot of huffing and puffing and talking over each other and ignoring Candy Crowley, and that was all in good fun. But for me, the most pointed moment was when Mitt claimed to understand that the women in his precious binder needed to get home to cook dinner and get the kids. Here’s the transcript:

“But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you. What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford…”

Holy crap. It is 2012, and we have a candidate for President of the United States not only completely avoiding the direct question regarding equal pay, but also claiming that women need flexible schedules to be employable? WTF?!

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Last week, I wrote about the ACC Annual Meeting. A highlight of that meeting was an interview with Lauren Stevens, linked here. The clip is over an hour long, with the interview starting around eleven minutes in; I can see the tl;dw comments now. Let me give you a summary.

This is a case of an in-house counsel getting prosecuted, twice, for doing her job. We are tasked with protecting our companies zealously. Just like any outside lawyer. And you know what, sometimes we’re the windshield, but most times we’re the bug, to paraphrase Mark Knopfler. This isn’t a fluff piece, it’s a column about stuff getting real, and what can happen to a gatekeeper simply doing her job….

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This column was written in the middle of a swamp in Central Florida. Yes, I speak of Orlando, and specifically, the 47 square miles of property belonging to the Disney Corporation. I am attending the Annual Meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel, but all my kids know is that Dad disappears for a while each day while they ride, eat, play, swim, etc., to their hearts’ content. I have written before of my membership in ACC and the benefits that I have enjoyed in my five plus years as a member. This week, Lat asked me to report in from the conference, and I was happy to oblige.

As an in-house attorney, there are numerous organizations seeking your membership. Depending on your specialty, there are national and even global organizations to join. However, if your company is like mine, and will cover the cost of a state bar membership and one association, the one to join that is truly comprehensive in scope and resources is ACC….

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Blind item: which fairly powerful, yet overly fey — and we’re talking Dana Carvey “Gay?? That’s ridiculous!!” fey — and married Biglaw partner with top school credentials, regularly double and triple bills clients?

Blind item: which Biglaw firm, when faced with a lawyer deponent from a small shop who was clearly mentally unstable, chose to do nothing, ignoring its reporting obligations?

I mention the above anecdotes because they are all true, and because they all include reportable ethical breaches. When we were inducted into the Second Department in Brooklyn, and in ethics class, our reporting obligations were hammered into us — yet, nothing is ever done. Why?

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I am told there is a fad wherein you get up on a faux bicycle, and make your legs go around on pedals as fast as possible until the room starts spinning. To my Cheetos-stained mind, this sounds like an awful idea. (Hey, at least my mind is not nicotine-stained.) But the “spinning” I am talking about goes by several different identities: panic, anxiety, etc. It is caused by a single source: error.

As lawyers, we are expected to be perfect. Oh, not perfect people, oh no no no. But perfect in our writing, analysis, and so on. Laypeople have no understanding of the pressure that we regularly practice under, be it in Biglaw, or for overly anal-retentive judges. We are not allowed mistakes, there is no such thing as a first draft, there is instead a “perfect” draft that gets reviewed to the level of uber-perfect. However, because we are human, and not perfect, there is always a chance for disaster — missing a deadline, missing a citation, or worse.

Once error is introduced into our perfect worlds, spinning can set in if not immediately and staunchly held in check. Now, it is true that we aren’t following the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade on shovel duty, but the pressure under which we practice manifests itself in some horrible things such as alcoholism, divorce, and suicide….

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Sometimes the customer is right. Once in a while, the customer is so very correct that I will go to the trouble of writing down a noteworthy quote or two. Recently, during a call with a CIO of a major corporation, she told me (and several others on the call) that what had occurred was at the level of “nothing less forgivable.” And she was absolutely dead on in her assessment of the situation. I dropped my usual schtick of “lawyer,” and had an honest and candid conversation with her. I sought her counsel on what solution(s) she would propose to the problem, and I promised to get back in touch.

The facts of this situation had to do with HIPAA compliance. Now, if you’re running a financial firm, it’s unlikely that you are overly concerned with HIPAA; instead, you have to worry more about Gramm-Leach-Bliley. And if you run a fireworks stand, you really need to focus on keeping sources of flame away from your establishment. My point is this: in no matter what field your business exists, there are acts that could cause a cataclysmic problem for you and your future.

As an in-house attorney, you must always be on both sides of the field with these issues — offense as well as defense. You must be vigilant about interactions with other entities, and you will sometimes be on the receiving end of criticism flowing back to you. Neither is much fun (though, as an old litigator, offense is still kind of enjoyable now and again), but both are absolutely essential. Especially your response skill set….

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I watched the sunset with my son last night. I told him that today would never come again, and that I was so happy to have watched the day end next to him. It then occurred to me that I had missed so many events since becoming a practicing lawyer; and for what? The easy answer is that I was such a hungry young turk, that I would always choose work over play because that is what lawyers do. Especially Biglaw attorneys. It was simply a rite of passage to regularly catch the 8:03 p.m. with a couple of oilcans of Foster’s Lager, arrive home after 9 p.m., and be up again at 6 a.m. to rinse and repeat.

Even more hardcore was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to prepare a brief for filing. Associates would lament, with an undercurrent of braggadocio, about how they had to cancel a vacation in order to complete a filing. And the funny thing is, I don’t recall any partners cancelling anything — ever. So, the hard (and candid) answer is that I was a fool….

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Damn, Tony Scott! L.A. does weird things to a person. Each time I am there I am struck by a palpable sense of “difference.” It may well be the fact that I’ve been on the East Coast for so long, but I can’t shake the feel of Los Angeles. It is akin to being at Disneyland. The facades are constructed so realistically, but then you see Winnie the Pooh having a cigarette. Anyway, props to Mr. Scott for giving us some of the best films of my lifetime.

On to the task at hand. I was watching Mary Poppins the other day with my daughter. I swear that I only watch these things because my kids love them; really. As you know Jane and Michael Banks draft a list of qualities that they desire in a new nanny. Soon thereafter, Mary Poppins appears and straightens the entire household, kids and all, spit spot, er, I mean ship shape. And the Banks’ children’s list of got me to thinking about qualities to look for in a recruiter. So, I have compiled my own list of things to seek when considering a recruiter for your job search, if you have chosen to go that route. Some of you who are do it yourselfers can stop reading here. Those of you in the market for a recruiter, read on….

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Ed. note: This is a continuation of last week’s post by in-house columnist David Mowry, True Confessions (Part I).

I decided that it was somehow a good idea to live apart from my (pregnant) wife and 3-year-old son for about a year. I needed a job. I was scared and desperate, my clerkship was ending, and I had no prospects in D.C. or New York. So, I headed to Rochester.

At first, it was great to have law firm money coming in, and my salary and relative short distance from Rochester to Maryland allowed me to either drive or fly down to BWI on the weekends. But soon, the rigors and expectations of moving from junior to senior litigation associate began to make such trips difficult, and always stressful. This was when Citrix connections and Wi-Fi were in their infancy, and of course our house was just in a valley deep enough to cause problems with me connecting.

Stress soon turned potent as the pending birth of our second son was timed to occur with the due dates of several motions and depositions, etc. The Rochester partner for whom I was doing a majority of my work was not pleased that I took time to be in D.C. waiting for the baby to be born. The situation took a toll on me, my wife, and our son.

On the day of my wife’s labor, D.C. experienced the backlash of an East Coast hurricane, and a storm was brewing with my lawyer gig as well. Things were coming due, communication with the home office was difficult at best, and my work was suffering; I was suffering. I still have the emails that came to me in the delivery room and during recovery. I was torn between being present with my wife during this most important time, and trying to please the boss(es) in Rochester.

A mere two weeks after my son was born, we were caravanning to our new house upstate. Oh yes, I failed to mention that I was house hunting up until the date I traveled to D.C. to be with my wife while we awaited the due date. It was more than enough to break me….

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