House Rules

It is that time of year when “A Christmas Story” begins to play on the endless loop left vacant by the old WPIX yule log. The scene I refer to is when Scut Farkus tortures Flick by turning his arm behind his back and forcing him to say “uncle” until Scut and his yellow eyes have had enough. Then he and his toady, Grover Dill, retreat back under the rocks from whence they came.

The Scut Farkuses of the in-house world are thankfully very few and even farther between. Usually, there is at least a façade of collegiality between different counsels representing their respective companies. Sometimes, this collegiality becomes real, and drinks are shared as deals are closed. But, yes, Virginia, there is a Scut Farkus Society.

They are the barely competent; just enough to be dangerous, and they usually somehow hit the lottery and work at uber-corporations whose money we as a company desire. As a vendor attorney, there is always a bit of kowtowing to the purchaser. Sometimes it’s a cultural necessity, but more often than not, it is a factor of needing the business. But everyone has a breaking point, yes, even me….

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I am guessing that approximately six people will read this column. That’s down from the usual nineteen, and it is because this is the day before Thanksgiving 2012 — the Last Thanksgiving if the Mayans were right, and just another day gorging on turkey with the family if they were wrong. Since so few of us are toiling away today, I want to give thanks for some things, and to some people, instead of writing another piece on in-house life.

First, thanks to David, Elie, and Staci. It has been an adventure writing for you. I used to read this site every day, and enjoyed it more often than not. I am sure that one day we’ll meet face to face and share some cocktails, discuss open-toed shoes, and admire Staci’s weight loss and wedding ring.

Thanks to the other writers on this blog, especially Tom Wallerstein and Mark Herrmann. Among the other writers here, those two consistently cause me to attempt to step up my game. That is the mark of good writing, when you strive to write as well as those whom you admire.

Thanks to the Commentariat. I am inspired and chastened by your (sometime) wit, and disgusted by your depravity. However, and I mean this sincerely, you are like the hordes in the pit of the Globe theater, ready to throw waste or snark on a moments notice — sometimes deservedly so, and sometimes with good humor. I hope you find jobs, and that the Internets always remain anonymous for you….

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I have borrowed the Boy Scout motto because I am involved in a complex cross-border transaction. Yeah, I am not kidding. I am using today’s column to point up the importance of in-house counsel being involved in a difficult deal as close to inception as possible.

Usually, the field calls when there is an approval needed for some non-standard language, or a review of a legal concept is required. At this stage in a deal, the parties are well on their way to completion, and some legal issue has arisen. But, in a complex global agreement, there are numerous variables that one must remain on top of from the start. Foremost is an understanding of the deal itself. A very close second is an understanding of what exactly the Customer is expecting, having awarded an RFP to your company.

RFPs are quirky animals, rife with opportunity for miscommunication or differing interpretations of answers. The field has prepared its response in reaction to the knowledge that several competitors are bidding on the same deal. And we all know that field ops are known for their lack of puffery and straight arrow responses to questions like, “Can you deliver X in Dubai on a single day’s notice?” Not to denigrate field ops, but the answers are always, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” setting the Customer’s expectation at such a high level, that when it comes time to actually negotiate Ts and Cs, you, in-house lawyer-person, are going out to some very hungry wolves….

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I have to start by saying that the more Karl Rove tried to get the anchors to listen to him, the more he sounded like Milton desperately trying to hold on to his red stapler. Of course, that incident in “Office Space” didn’t end so well for the Initech building, but I digress. In any event, it is over — until Monday, when the cycle starts back up again. The most poignant moment for me last night was sharing a Garbage Plate with my son, who will be about to obtain his learner’s permit when the circus next comes to town. My prediction for 2016: Clinton in a landslide victory.

It is with optimism that I look forward to the close of 2012 and Q4. Business has been picking up and there are signs that the slog of economic momentum might continue to gain traction, and no matter your politics, you had better hope so. We all need each other right now, and not in a Kumbaya sort of way. Biglaw feeds off corporations, and corporations (who are people, too) require economies on local as well as global scales to continue to improve. But, as we see in parts of Europe, improvement is relative.

It could be catastrophic for even a single country to flounder, and the tenuous assistance being offered by stronger economies cannot last in perpetuity. Besides, I believe there’s a rule against that. Asia seems to be faring well, and will be a focal point in the next four years. Anyone who believed the blather from both candidates about “punishing” China needs to hear this — bull and sh*t. We rely so very heavily on China for its labor, imports, and other benefits, and China is so very deep into our economy, that any show of judicial force or otherwise is just that, a show….

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It drives me crazy that my kids had “Harvest” parties at school today. Harvest what? It’s Halloween for Chrissakes. Every calendar in the office here says it’s Halloween. It is not Harvest Day, and believe me, with the reduction of old-time husbandry and the growth of corporate farming, it is difficult to envision ConAgra holding a Harvest Festival. Anyway.

I am not in a good mood of late. The hurricane has really put a damper (seriously, no pun intended) on the spirits of a lot of folks in the Northeast. Spare me the “it’s about time New York got its comeuppance” crap; this is serious stuff. Politically savvy or not, when Chris Christie starts praising Obama and FEMA with apparent sincerity, you know that stuff just got real. For us in Western New York we had a crapload of leaves to shovel; first world problem, I know. You almost feel an embarrassment of riches when you have a sore back from yard clean-up and many people have no home to clean. But, Springsteen postponed his show here from last night until tonight which is a blessing, so there’s that. And my kids are going to be done trick or treating and in bed before the first notes of “Badlands” ring out.

But I digress. This is a Halloween post, and I should have some scary stuff to discuss….

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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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