House Rules

I found today’s piece on contract attorneys interesting, given that I just attended an e-discovery CLE program run by a local firm (Ward Greenberg) last week. The program centered around the practicalities and ethics of e-discovery and the case law surrounding those topics.

I admit to being taken aback at how times have changed since I was utilizing an OCR viewer to review documents while searching for keywords to code. Those were the days. As mentioned in the contract attorney column, doc review was a sure way to meet and exceed billable-hour targets simply by doing essentially monkey work. And the firms were all too happy to bill me at out at hundreds of dollars per hour for looking over repetitive and duplicative documents.

Now that I am in-house, I would have a conniption fit if a firm tried to pull such a stunt — and I don’t think many firms would….

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This begins my third year of writing for ATL. I am thrilled that our relationship has flourished, and I look forward to continuing this column for some time. When I read over some of my past columns, I realized that vindication of some of my points of view (poor vetting by JPMorgan, the market falling with the continuing shutdown) feels quite a bit better than having to offer mea culpas. Making mistakes is part of life. Making mistakes in a large and public forum is a good argument for not writing. I closed my comments section fairly recently as I believed that the comments had devolved from intellectual snark to a level above scat humor. Maybe it was the summer that brought out the “challenged.” All I know is that it is good to have a cast of regulars back in the fold, and my comments have been re-opened for weeks.

In the coming year, I am going to be doing more interviewing about in-house life…

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In-house counsel react to new business plan.

I am now officially on the downside of my 40s. Not a big deal really, but I am definitely not a “kid” anymore. My first official duty in middle age was to mow the grass. As I was going along, minding my business, I rolled over a hive of ground hornets. Eight stings later, and after ibuprofen, a stiff drink and some rest, the trauma ended. I sort of felt the same way about the reaction to last week’s column. For the record, I am not a depressed individual with nothing good to say about the profession. My message was basically an observation of the mess in which we currently find ourselves. And yes, I would advise someone with a choice, not to go to law school right now. If you are enrolled, graduated, employed, working in law, etc., it is what it is. But for those of you contemplating — I am telling you, you’ll work just as hard in a bank, and your paycheck may actually reflect the skills and intelligence required for the job. Oh, and you’ll get to tell lawyers what to do — always fun.

Today I would like to discuss an aspect of in-house life that can be alternately exciting and annoying as all get out: the ever-changing target of a business plan….

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The legal profession in happier times.

A few pending anniversaries to mention: the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; my 45th birthday tomorrow; I have been practicing law for 14 years; and my second year of writing this column for Above the Law is fast approaching.

Really, the only date of any import is 9/11. A “first world problem” for me is that my birthday is forever the “day after” — but at least I have a day after. So many families were destroyed that day, and so many of us will forever duck a little bit when airplanes fly past our buildings. I cannot imagine working in downtown San Diego, where the approach from the East is so close to so many skyscrapers.

I won’t dwell too much on lower Manhattan today, as by now I think everyone remembers in their own way, but I will always cherish my thirtieth birthday, a surprise party held at Windows on the World, surrounded by friends and a swing band in the background. I found a picture from that party — I am hugging some buddies, and was a young buck associate at Coudert Brothers, a 150+ year old firm driven to ruin by poor cash management. Anyway, today will forever be bittersweet as I prepare to look to the future tomorrow, and will always remember that awful day 12 years ago….

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I am not sure what I agreed to, or what button I selected, but yesterday Linkedin sent network invitations to seemingly everyone on the planet with whom I have ever corresponded by email. For the past two days I have received numerous invite acceptances; my once small network is now seemingly unmanageable in scope. However, some really great news has accompanied many emails. Several people with whom I have spoken over the years have written to update me on their job hunting – and the news has been universally good. I have always held the identities of those who have written in confidence, and I will continue that practice. But, I can comfortably report that jobs have been attained in government work, private practice, and in-house. The economy is tough, and hiring prospects are not back to mid-90s levels, but there are positions to be had, and to the most tenacious go the spoils.

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Meh. So, I closed commenting for my column.

But much bigger things happened this past week. Like getting my GA tickets to share in the groove on October 22. The boys are playing with a fervor not seen in many years, and I am very excited that the circus is coming to town. It also did nothing to stanch the flow of correspondence to my Gmail account regarding the switch from litigation in a firm to in-house work. I write today’s column with three specific people in mind….

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The remnants of the Grateful Dead (Furthur) came to town last week. I was unable to attend, as I was putting on a five-hour benefit show the next day, and I knew a party the night before would not be good for me. Well, the band only got part way into the second set before stopping the show due to “weather.” Granted, there were thunderstorms about, as a cold front was finally lifting the oppressive heat wave of July 2013. But no rain was reported at the venue, and no “weather” ever materialized. Putting on my foil-hat character for a bit tells me that Bobby is still not well, or recovered enough from his bout with something or other earlier this summer. YouTube the clip of “Bob Weir falling” and see for yourself. It is not only sad to see a legend in the throes of some sort of addiction, but it is frustrating as a fan — to pay good money for a show, only to have to leave early because one of the stars couldn’t keep it together.

I have written before about mental illness in the profession, but a more insidious and pervasive issue is alcohol and drug dependency. Everyone who uses has their own story and background about how they got into alcohol or drug use, but I want to focus on the atmosphere in the legal profession: that you cannot have a gathering of attorneys without letting the booze flow. Beginning as a summer associate, and on through your career, wherever you end up, alcoholic beverages, and to a lesser extent drugs, become an omnipresent factor in your daily life. I am not here to preach or judge, just to offer a cautionary tale.

It might also have to do with the fact the we are boring as hell when in a group, and the only way to loosen up is to imbibe….

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Attorneys must be prepared to not panic upon realizing that the curveball is not going to drop into the strike zone.

I learned two life lessons from my participation in the “The Fifth of July” (affiliate link), a play by Lanford Wilson. One was during my first-ever male kissing scene. I learned what actresses go through with piggish actors who decide to “go for it” when the lights come up; we’ll leave it at that. And two, I learned that when required to wear short shorts as part of your costume, you should always — always — wear underwear if you’re ever going to be sitting down during your scenes.

I relay those two lessons tongue half in cheek. They relate to in-house work in the sense that while preparation is key, when the spit hits the fan, you need to first “grab the canoe”….

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I wrote last week about my participation on a statewide panel on in-house attorney registration and pro bono work. As stated, Chief Judge Lippman and Judge Graffeo of the New York Court of Appeals, are spearheading the effort to have all New York in-house counsel, who are not admitted in New York, register with the courts. The State Legislature has gone further and has passed legislation making it a felony to fail to so register. In other words, starting November 1 of this year, failure to register can get you a charge of unlicensed practice of law (“UPL”). The resulting comments to this news ranged from snarky to ignorant. My suggestion to those that this upsets would be to suck it up, because the times they are a-changing.

As attorneys admitted in New York, we knew what we were signing up for when we joined the Bar. Pro bono work is a duty, not something to be swept under the rug with a “too busy, sorry.” An estimated 2.3 million people going unrepresented in New York is not only sad, but unnecessary. And law firms can only pick up so much of the slack. They have their own issues with pro bono, but at least give lip service to attempting to assist. In-house counsel are an untapped reservoir of capable attorneys who can at least act as a drop in the bucket of a pool of folks in need of representation…

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That headline woke some of you up, I am sure. But don’t worry — keep reading for the details.

When a judge “requests” that you attend a function, or to represent an indigent client, or to work on a statewide task force, you don’t say no. Not only is it bad form to refuse such a request, accepting the invitation can get you a seat at a table full of people smarter than you, and might just allow you to have an impact on pending judiciary rules.

I met yesterday with a statewide task force on in-house attorney registration and pro bono work. Chief Judge Lippman and Judge Victoria Graffeo of the New York Court of Appeals are spearheading the effort to have all New York in-house counsel, who are not admitted in New York, register with the courts. The State Legislature has gone further and has passed legislation making it a felony to fail to so register. In other words, failure to register can get you a charge of unlicensed practice of law (“UPL”). The following is excerpted from correspondence with Judge Graffeo…

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