Some general counsel of public companies return to private practice involuntarily: The new CEO changes the management team, or your GC job becomes redundant after a bigger fish acquires your company.
But a relatively few voluntarily choose to leave the perceived comfort of being the top dog in an in-house law department to resume the battle of private practice.
That’s why I raised an eyebrow when a guy (or gal) who I’ve known for a couple of decades recently left his (or her) GC spot to return to big firm life.
Let me give the details needed to make the story worth telling, while concealing enough to protect my friend’s identity. This person had worked at firms small and large, became general counsel of a Fortune 1000 company within the last three to five years, and left within the last year to return to an Am Law 20 firm. When I heard that this person had returned to private practice, I could feel a blog post waiting to happen, so I naturally picked up the phone.
Here’s why my friend left the life of Riley to return to the big firm fray:
Here’s a little fact that’ll make some of our readers feel old: Facebook, the world’s largest social media conglomerate, celebrated its ninth birthday yesterday. Being that it’s almost been around for a decade, the site’s been there with some of our younger readers throughout college, law school, bar exam hell, law jobs (or the lack thereof), engagements, weddings, babies, and more.
In celebration of Facebook’s birthday, the good people over at BuzzFeed did some stalking research on the site’s very first users, all 25 of them. As it turns out, some of them went on to become lawyers. But where did they go to law school, and which firms are they at today?
Let’s do something Facebook would never do — invade their privacy — and find out….
In last week’s Moonlighting, we checked out what several general counsels and chief legal officers considered to be the worst aspects of their job. And all of us in junior positions and middle management cried a tear for them.
This week, we’re going to look at what those GCs and CLOs said are the absolute bestest things ever about being the head of a legal department. Dare to take a guess? Is it the fact that they’re compensated with tons of cash, stock options, and other sweet benefits as a member of the exclusive C Suite? Or that law firm partners are as attentive to them as valets are to earls and dukes on Downton Abbey? Or that the Red Sea parts whenever they raise a staff over it?
Apparently there are greater benefits to being a GC than any of those above. And this includes one that was listed in last week’s column as a reason you wouldn’t want to be the GC….
A lot of in-house attorneys dream of reaching the top someday. And when they fall short of becoming the Managing Editor for Above the Law, they look to general counsel positions instead.
You get paid the big bucks, fly first class everywhere, and get to boss around outside law firms. What’s not to like?
I decided to find out. I checked with several general counsels (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) (note — no one at my company), to learn what they think really sucks about being at the top of the legal hierarchy….
* Is this contract for sex based on Facebook likes enforceable? [Gawker]
* Speaking of unenforceable contracts, what in the hell does Bilbo sign before his unexpectedly long journey? [Wired]
* And Jesus, you certainly can’t barter legal services for sex! I think everybody needs to go home and read the Second Restatement. [Indianapolis Star]
* Now you can hear for yourself the three words that Clarence Thomas spoke. It’s at the 41-minute mark. [The Supreme Court]
* Ms. JD is offering lawyers and law students the chance to submit questions to ABA President Laurel Bellows that will be answered at an event on January 31 (with viewing parties around the country). [Ms. JD]
* How to answer a question when an interviewer asks you something that you don’t have to answer. [Lawyers.com]
* Litigation can be a good excuse to get your client to do things they should have been doing all along. [What About Clients?]
* North Carolina dean claims she was forced to underreport sexual assaults at the college. When reached for comment, the Duke Lacrosse team said, “We kind of have the opposite problem.” [Salon]
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the second part of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.
While some are viewed as a valuable resource, many non-lawyers in the company automatically stereotype company attorneys as mere red tape, as an expense, or as an obstacle to be avoided (or derided as the “Department of Sales Prevention”). “Often, lawyers are considered overhead in a corporate situation, and to be a success, it really helps to be able to show how you contribute to the bottom line or at least don’t add significantly to it,” says Katie Slater, former Assistant General Counsel at AEI Services, a Houston based energy company, who now runs Career Infusion Coaching, a career management firm for lawyers. In-house attorneys always have to manage expectations and demonstrate over time how their legal skill set contributes to the collective goals of the company.
The best way to demonstrate this value is to be able to communicate and express ideas in a quick, clear way in order to give guidance and ideas for next steps. “Bottom-line communication ability — can you say things in three bullet points or less, and in plain English?” says Slater. “Being able to break down a legal issue simply and coherently to get to why this is an issue from a business perspective is a huge skill that will be valued. Can you give ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers, and, if the answer is ‘No,’ can you come up with alternatives or work-arounds?”
Many business types think lawyers are put on earth to tell them “No.” To combat this, successful in-house attorneys are responsive (even if they are still working on an answer), and provide the business units with alternatives to mull on and consider. This interaction can build trust and shows that the attorneys is indeed on their side and contributing to business persons personal goals and the overall growth of the company.
* NALP is becoming the harbinger of doom for law practice. Here’s some cheerful news: the percentage of female associates in Biglaw dropped for the third year in a row. Perhaps they’re going the way of the Clifford Chance mommy. [National Law Journal]
* Biglaw hotties are coming to a continent near you! Davis Polk & Wardell will be adding a litigation practice to its existing shop in Hong Kong, and they managed to poach two big name Clifford Chance litigators in the process. [DealBook / New York Times]
* According to the ACC, in 2012, base salaries for general counsel rose 1.9 percent, while cash bonuses dropped 7.9 percent. But really, who’s going to complain about a six-figure bonus? [Corporate Counsel]
* A Delaware jury ruled that Apple infringed on several patents in a mobile-device technologies case filed by MobileMedia Ideas. Somewhere, Samsung’s bigwigs are laughing their asses off. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* A woman was arrested in Spain for trying to smuggle in cocaine from Colombia. Seems pretty standard, except for the fact that she was hiding the coke in brand new breast implants — three pounds of it! [CNN]
* In case you missed this yesterday during the Cravath bonus-mania-palooza, David Kappos, the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, announced that he’d be stepping down from his position in January 2013. [Blog of Legal Times]
* And speaking of bonuses, somebody’s not probably getting one this year, because here come the lawsuits: Hewlett-Packard just got slapped with a securities class action suit as a result of the company’s allegedly fraudulent Autonomy acquisition. [Reuters]
* Will Penn State’s former general counsel be able to testify against Gary Schultz and Tim Curley in post-Sandusky criminal proceedings? Considering she’s “a key witness,” she better be. [Corporate Counsel]
* Of course Vermont Law School is considering offering voluntary staff buyouts, the school has a freakin’ $3.3M budget shortfall. In other news, they’ll be upping LL.M. programs to make up the cash. [National Law Journal]
* Paul Ceglia, the man who claims he owns half of Facebook, has been indicted on federal wire and mail fraud charges. He’ll appear in court this Wednesday, but who knows if he’ll have a lawyer by then. [Bloomberg]
* Jay Jaffe, law firm public relations pioneer, RIP. [PRWeek]
Long ago, my law firm won an appeal, and we were thinking of publicizing the victory for the benefit of both the client and our firm.
“It’ll be good to get some attention,” I said to the senior partner.
“It’s easy to get attention,” said he. “Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We don’t want attention. We want good attention.”
The same could be said of corporate law departments: It’s easy to get attention. It’s harder to get attention for simply doing a good job.
Suppose you wanted your corporation’s law department to be the darling of the press and be nominated for “law department of the year” honors. What would you do?
It’s easy: Make the type of big, public announcements that draw attention: “Our law department is announcing three major initiatives. First, we’re announcing a pro bono initiative. All of our in-house lawyers will devote at least 500 hours per year to pro bono matters. Second, we’re implementing a diversity initiative. [Insert details here.] Third, we’re completely eliminating reliance on the billable hour. Henceforth, all of our law firms will work on flat-fee or other alternative billing arrangements.” (There are surely other items that one could add to this list, too, that are escaping my feeble imagination.)
Gin ‘em up. Send out a press release. Presto! Your law department would be the toast of the town. People would be beating down your doors seeking interviews. But what would you have accomplished?
Times are changing for in-house attorneys, especially for those lucky enough to ascend to the rank of general counsel. With increased regulation has come increased growth at in-house law departments, as well as increased responsibilities — so much so that general counsel have bemoaned the fact that their “jobs keep [them] up at night.” However, considering that many of them are now earning even more than they did last year, they probably shouldn’t be complaining too much about their jobs.
But that’s the thing with in-house compensation: relevant salary data is harder to come by than it is in Biglaw. In-house salaries don’t follow the Biglaw lockstep model, they’re often negotiable, and they can vary widely depending on a broad range of factors such as industry, size of legal department, and tenure. If you play your cards right, you could wind up out-earning your company’s corporate executives.
Just how much money are we talking about here? Let’s check out the results of the latest survey on general counsel compensation and find out….
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 six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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