General Counsel

I worked at law firms for 25 years. I observed many things and heard many others.

Now I work in-house, and I have to select counsel to represent me.

If I saw you in action (or heard about your reputation) back then, will I hire you now?

It’s obvious how you could have impressed me: You could have put the client’s interests first, and you could have been breathtakingly good when analyzing issues, negotiating settlements, preparing briefs, or appearing in court.

But what could I have seen or heard that forever removed you from my subconscious “approved” list? What are the deadly sins?

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Rain on the Elysian plain?

Am I really mixing Homer and Lerner?

I am. (Hey, no one forces you to read this stuff.)

But to what end do I mix apples and wheelbarrows?

I live on the Elysian plain of in-house life: Freed of the demands of generating business; able to foist tedium off on the sad sacks who work at law firms; thinking strategically about the most significant issues facing the company; permitted (indeed, required) to work closely with a business. “‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

But there are occasional drawbacks to working in-house, and I try to share those with the world when I notice them. Three recently came to my attention. . . .

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He’s great at servicing clients.

* Morrison & Foerster just snagged a major government player for its global anti-corruption practice. Congrats to the firm on adding Charles Duross, formerly of the DOJ’s FCPA program, as a partner. [Washington Post]

* General counsel are keeping more and more work in-house, “presumably in order to minimize outside counsel spend.” In the alternative, it could be because the lawyers from the firms are too arrogant. [Corporate Counsel]

* If you dare to reject the Facebook friend request of the judge who’s presiding over your divorce case, then you can count on some retaliation in court. You can also count on the judge getting removed. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If you postponed applying to law school, please think long and hard about why you stopped applying the first time. Only take this advice if anything’s actually changed — like your grades, your LSAT score, or the job market. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* “This is a case to restore faith in the old-fashioned idea that divorce is something that lasts forever.” Steven A. Cohen is getting off when it comes to his ex-wife’s RICO claims, but not much else. [Reuters]


He’s great at servicing clients.

Which Biglaw firms are the best? Which Biglaw firms are the best in terms of providing quality client service? Those are two very different questions. Just because a particular law firm is classified as being one of the best does not mean it isn’t chock full of arrogant a-holes (there’s actually a ranking for that). On the other hand, just because a law firm is overflowing with arrogant a-holes does not mean that it isn’t one of the best. It can be a fairly complicated equation, and general counsel are often forced to pick the perfect sweet spot when choosing outside counsel for litigation matters.

How does your firm stack up against the others, and how can you increase the likelihood that yours will be chosen to represent some of the biggest brands in the business? Being rated as one of the “absolute best” by general counsel in terms of client service will certainly give your firm a fighting chance.

Did your firm make this year’s ranking of the Client Service 30? Take a look and find out…

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Being general counsel is like being Tom Hagen in the Godfather — you’re a Consigliere.

– A “top lawyer at a New York City startup,” explaining the value of creative lawyering to getting a new business off the ground. Daniel Doktori of WilmerHale spoke to a number of GCs about when startups should hire a lawyer and how to make the most of their new counsel when they do. Just always remember that Tommy isn’t a wartime consigliere.

This is as close to titillating as I’ll ever get in one of these columns:  When a senior lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, what does that mean?

Basically, Ecclesiastes is all about changing jobs:  “To every thing there is a season.”

When a partner at a law firm moves laterally in January, that’s like leaves changing in autumn.  The partner waited to receive his (or her) year-end bonus from firm A and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on to firm B.  That makes the lateral acquisition cheaper for the new firm.

The in-house world is a step slower:  When an in-house lawyer (or executive) moves to a new company in March or April, that’s like snow falling in winter.  The in-house person waited to receive his (or her) annual bonus in March (more or less) and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on.  That reduces the hiring cost for the new company.

But when an in-house lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, that’s a blizzard in May!  The game is afoot!  (Blogging is so good for me.  I just learned that Shakespeare said that first, although I was thinking of Sherlock Holmes (who said it later) when I typed the phrase.)  Quickly, Mr. Watson!  What can we deduce from an out-of-season executive departure?

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John Farren and Mary Farren

Lawyers John Michael Farren and Mary Margaret Farren were once a storybook couple. If Above the Law had been around in the nineties, they might have made the pages of Legal Eagle Wedding Watch. Mary Farren practiced energy law at the high-powered firm of Skadden Arps, where she attained the rank of counsel, and John Farren’s résumé was even more impressive: he served as general counsel to Xerox, a Fortune 500 company, before going on to serve as deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush.

Their success transcended their impressive job titles. She earned $500,000 a year at Skadden; he made millions as GC of Xerox. They had ample material wealth — $3 million in cash here, a $4.6 million mansion there — and two lovely daughters.

And then things went wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong….

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Nose candy for pimps.

* An NSA review panel thinks the Chief Justice of the United States shouldn’t be the only one appointing judges to the FISA Court. We imagine John Roberts is pulling a Stuart Smalley. Don’t worry, you’re good enough. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Sadly, Amy Schulman, one of America’s most influential lawyers and best-paid general counsel, is out at Pfizer. After leading the charge against outside counsel’s hourly billing, we doubt she’ll head back to DLA Piper. [Corporate Counsel]

* Scott Bloch, former head of the Office of Special Counsel in the GWB administration, allegedly hated gay staffers so much he shipped them to Detroit. That settles it: he really hated them. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill that would ban all private employers — except the government — from running credit checks on new hires. Let’s go rack up some credit card debt! [National Law Journal]

* Law schools are facing enrollment problems, but Boalt Hall and Santa Clara Law saw the size of their entering classes rise. Flooding the entry-level job market continues to be celebrated. [The Recorder]

* “Yes — I do share nose candy with these girls. For free. For my personal use, OK?” Pro se litigants say the darndest things. Good thing this guy got an attorney before things got worse. [Albany Times Union]

If you aspire to work in Biglaw, it’s likely that you’ve already got a certain air of je ne sais quoi about you. You’re probably a prestige whore who looks down your nose at others whom you deem to be inferior to you. You probably think you’re the sh*t, and you firmly believe that others should think so too. You know people call you a jerk behind your back, but you don’t care because you know they’re just jealous. You are the most special and unique of all snowflakes, and people should be honored to breathe the same air as you.

Congratulations! You’re an arrogant a-hole, and there are many firms that would be glad to have you among their ranks — because according to the latest survey results, they’re filled to the brim with people just like you.

Which Biglaw firms are just as cocky as you are? Luckily, there’s a ranking for that…

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Earlier this week, Above the Law hosted its first-ever Fashion Law Forum in Los Angeles at the W Hollywood. Despite the traffic on the 405, the event was very well-attended, and we nearly had a full house in the audience. Everyone was dressed to the nines, and we couldn’t have been happier with how this elegant soiree turned out.

The highlight of the evening was a lively discussion, moderated by ATL’s Staci Zaretsky, about all of the ins and outs of fashion law. Panelists included Staci Riordan, Chair of the Fox Rothschild Fashion Law Practice Group; Jane Shay Wald, Chair of Irell & Manella’s Trademark Practice Group; Deborah Greaves, Secretary and General Counsel of True Religion Brand Jeans; and Erica Alterwitz, Assistant General Counsel of BCBG Max Azria Group Inc.

If you’re interested in becoming a fashion attorney, here are three takeaways from our esteemed panelists that you can use to get a better understanding of the industry before you dive in…

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