House Rules

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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I have Irish Alzheimer’s; I forget everything but my grudges. As I read about the latest round of bar study and exams, I think back on my job interviews over the years. I cannot shake the remembrances of some of my more outstanding successes and failures.

There was the major domo partner at an unnamed firm (located in the Battery which had a really salacious sex harassment fiasco some time ago) who looked at the title of my journal piece and stated, “You know, there’s no such word as ‘normalization.’” Now, I could have informed this pompous ass that maybe in the Kissinger era there was no such word, but, I wanted a gig. So, I put the tail between my legs and meekly said that I would have to look into that.

There was an associate from a since disappointingly merged firm from Midtown who “took a call” during our OCI, hung up, and informed me that he’d just closed a multi-million dollar deal. I was totally unprepared for dealing with such a tool, but again, I wanted a gig. So, I said something to the effect of “congratulations.”

Finally, there was the bow-tie wearing fop with shoulder length hair from the firm with four names, who cradled his fingers under his dimpled chin, shook his mane and said, “Why would XXXX want to hire you?” Unprepared to deal with such an insipid question, I came up with an equally insipid answer.

And just so I don’t let the in-house interviewers off the hook, there were some real winners in my last search. Since I am heavily involved in the ACC and other ventures, however, it’s best not to describe anecdotes. Let’s just say that, contrary to the viral videos, it does not “always get better”…

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There have lately been a flurry of articles, blog columns, and opinions strewn about whether a woman can have a baby and run a corporation. Filtered down to a finer point, especially relevant to this site, is whether lawyers can have it all. The answer, in my opinion, is no. A distilled or altered sense of “all” perhaps, but truly having it all, where you commit fully to your work and home life? Not so much. And to commit the foul of using lawyer “weasel words” — it depends.

When I am asked for advice from folks who read this column, or others practicing law or about to, I usually begin by assessing where that person is in life….

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Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, is pregnant. And she took the job knowing she was pregnant. And the board hired her with full knowledge that she is pregnant. Holy hell, what is the world coming to? Read the following:

“She joins a small-but-growing group of women leading major public companies in the U.S., pushing the number to 20 female CEOs out of 500, or 4%. However, she sets a precedent as the first woman to ever take the top position while pregnant. Will having her first baby impact her performance or perception as the strong leader that Yahoo desperately needs?” -Forbes.com, July 17, 2012.

Are you kidding me right now? Let’s play Mad-Libs and change some of the words in that paragraph to “first black woman” and “[w]ill being black impact her performance or perception.” Is the new paragraph more or less offensive? I would argue that both are disgusting….

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What the hell happened to the ding letter? When I was coming up, you would interview for a position, and maybe get a callback (inclusive of a nice lunch). If the firm was interested, you’d get an offer, if not, a thin envelope with a “ding” letter. I collected mine like badges of some sort. Some bar in Manhattan used to give you a free drink for every ding letter.

Eventually, I grew up a bit and threw them away. I had no need for them, and they were simply letters of rejection.

Over the years, something happened to the common ding letter: it disappeared. Now, you’re lucky if a company informs you that they received your application packet. Some go all in and state that they’ll keep your information on file and if someone finds you attractive enough, they will give a call, but don’t hold your breath. After talking to many applicants and folks in the job market, my real question is this: “what the hell happened to common decency?”

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“Could be a brooch, a pterodactyl…”

The line above is from Airplane, a 1980 comedy that is regularly included in all-time top ten movie comedy lists.*

“Johnny” is the character who utters this and many more scene-stealing lines; he owned each scene in which he appeared, and was played by the late Stephen Stucker.

Each time he was on screen, and there were far too few appearances, you were drawn to watch him just to see what he would say. He nailed every line, and the audience loved him. My friends and I would regularly quote the movie in our younger years, as it signaled a paradigm shift in movie comedies –- riotous farces that contained foul language, sexual innuendo, and brief nudity. Among this genre, and ground breaking at the time were Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Stripes, and Porky’s.

These movies helped American movies evolve from the mid-’70s “cinema” into the early ’80s “blockbuster.” While these films broke boundaries and changed the rules, and even seem quaint by today’s standards, they’re still funny. But, back to Mr. Stucker.

While it is difficult at best to steal scenes in Biglaw, and be the person that folks remember (for the right reasons of course), it is even more difficult in-house. When you first transition, you are usually entering a company with policies and procedures, uncharted politics and a set hierarchy of power. You find your place soon enough and begin to learn from those that came before.

It is hard to stand out….

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