In-House Counsel

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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Andrea Pellegrini

The old saying goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and it usually preaches that people are different on the inside, and generally for the better. That’s kind of a stupid saying when you think about it because a cover is an image specifically selected by the author and a publisher to entice people to read the book. It’s designed to reflect the book. If anything, a cover misleads the consumer into buying a book that’s not as good as the cover. So if you’re judging a book by its cover, there is only a risk that the reality is going to be worse.

This is all a roundabout way of pointing out that a business structured around a couple of guys who affirmatively choose to dress up like evil clowns and sing “F**k Celine Dion and f**k Dionne Warwick, you both make me sick, suck my dick,” have been sued for sexual harassment.

The allegations are kind of crazy, and claim other criminality as well….

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I wrote several weeks ago about why I should waste time — why I should attend some meetings at which I’m not really necessary. I should do this to learn what folks on my team are doing on a daily basis, to have a chance to work one-on-one with more people who ultimately report up to me, and to improve employee job satisfaction by having a manager show interest in employees’ work.

To my in-house eye, that’s not “wasted” time; it’s “invested” time — time that improves our collective well-being, even though it doesn’t result in my having completed a specific task that the organization needs accomplished.

As I think about it, I see an awful lot of these things in-house that I would never have seen at a law firm. For example, several weeks ago, we decided to invite a junior in-house lawyer to attend meetings of our “Corporate Ethics Committee,” at which a fairly senior group addresses, among other things, important issues that arise through our corporation’s anonymous ethics hotline. We didn’t invite the junior lawyer because his or her attendance was important to the committee’s deliberations; rather, we thought that attending the committee meetings would provide helpful training and give the junior lawyer more exposure to senior people in the department.

At a law firm, everyone would spit in your eye if you suggested that a junior person should unnecessarily attend a meeting simply for the sake of training and exposure: This would constitute either over-billing the client or wasting potentially billable hours. . . .

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Business development sometimes seems like an impossible task. Winning new clients, or generating new business from existing clients, isn’t easy. If you doubt this, check out in-house columnist Mark Herrmann’s excellent column, Nothing You Can Say Can Cause Me To Retain You (explaining all the strategies for trying to obtain his business that won’t work). The challenge of getting new clients explains why so many firms resort to effectively trying to buy clients, by luring lateral partners and hoping their books of business come with them.

But still, every now and then a law firm does get hired by a new client. And every now and then a law firm gets fired by an existing or even longstanding client (even though it’s not easy to displace incumbent counsel, especially if they’re decent).

Why do clients hire and fire their outside counsel? A new survey offers some answers….

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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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The most recent rankings of America’s best-paid general counsel reflected healthy increases in GC compensation. But that data related to the highest-paid legal officers at the nation’s largest companies. What about rank-and-file in-house lawyers?

We’ve mentioned some anecdotal evidence of in-house counsel doing very well for themselves financially. But some of our in-house readers, as well as one of our columnists, questioned whether that data was representative of in-house lawyers generally.

Now we’re happy to bring you a more systematic and all-encompassing look at in-house compensation, going beyond just general counsel, courtesy of a new survey. There’s good news and bad news….

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* Even at the top of the in-house food chain, women lawyers are still paid less than their male counterparts. But hey, at least they’re not being forced to cry poverty like their in-house staff attorney brethren. [Corporate Counsel]

* Neil Barofsky, the former King of TARP in the United States, is making the move to Jenner & Block, specifically because as opposed to all other firms, “Jenner took the side of really getting to the truth of the matter.” [Reuters]

* Luxury fashion is fun: four Biglaw firms, including Cleary Gottlieb, Cravath, Torys, and Proskauer Rose, all took Tim Gunn’s mantra to heart to make it work for the $6 billion sale of Neiman Marcus. [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* If you want to try some lawyer, we hear that they taste great when poached this time of year. Speaking of which, Troutman Sanders just reeled in three attorneys from Hunton & Williams. [Richmond BizSense]

* Law schools in the Dakotas are renovating their buildings in the hope of enrolling more students. Luckily, South Dakota has that sweet indentured servitude plan. [Prairie Business; National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* If you’re thinking of applying to law school, here’s a plan of attack for the month of September. That’s right, friends, you can start gunning right now! [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Are you ready for some tax law?! The NFL and other professional sports leagues might lose their nonprofit status if new tax reform legislation makes it through the House and the Senate. [Businessweek]

First things first: I’m heading back to the States for a couple of weeks in October, and Troutman Sanders and Miller Canfield have already asked me to take advantage of that visit by giving my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide at those firms. That means I’ll be blowing the dust off my speaking notes and reminding myself what I say. I might as well get some bang for the dust; if you’d like me to give the book talk at your firm (or school) in early October, please let me know.

Second things second: Citi, Wells Fargo, and PeerMonitor recently released their analyses of law firm performance to date in 2013, and the pundits were all a-twitter. (Well, all a-blogger, anyway, but the pundits are so retro.)

Here’s one question the pundits posed: Why is law firm headcount up when law firms are suffering from decreased demand for their services?

That’s a pretty good question, and there’s no obvious explanation. Being a curious fellow, I used a clever technique to get to the bottom of this: I asked.

After the jump, I explain why firms are hiring more lawyers during a time of weak demand (as explained by senior partners at a couple of firms) and note an overlooked aspect of 2012 law firm performance that may affect results in 2013 . . . .

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The placidity of the lake outside my early morning window is calming. The middle child plays something in the background called “Minecraft,” which I don’t mind because of its New Age music, and the other two are still asleep — the oldest, exhausted from JV soccer practice, and the youngest, well, because she’s four. I can hear the crickets and early morning birds, and I think that life is pretty good. Actually, very good. We have chosen a vacation home near enough to our town that we can shuttle the oldest back and forth to workouts, and still spend our afternoons on the lake. At twelve, he doesn’t realize that we have sacrificed a true “vacation” for him, but that is fine — he caught six fish yesterday, and we were happy.

Some of us have a memory that vacations are about piling the kids into a station wagon (deathtraps that we “olds” used to ride in, sans seatbelts, as our parents smoked themselves to death in the front seats, and we rode in the rear-facing bench seat giving the universal “honk your horn” sign to truckers) and riding for hours only to find that “Wallyworld” was closed for repairs. Today’s vacations for attorneys are usually getaways that may put you in a different locale, but with a Blackberry that still demands your attention. You can try to turn it off and leave it on the bed stand, but you know that the brief will still be due or the closing date still looms. First World troubles, I know…

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We are pleased to invite you to a panel and cocktail networking reception in Toronto on September 10th from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Join Bruce MacEwen for a discussion of the future of the large law firm business model. Bruce’s trenchant analysis of the challenges facing Biglaw, Growth is Dead: Now What? (affiliate link), is “an extraordinary body of work that reflects enormous insight and ought be required reading by managing partners of law firms,” in the words of Paul Weiss chair Brad Karp. The event promises to take an insightful look at the differences — and similarities — in how U.S. and Canadian law firms are meeting the challenges of the “New Normal.”

Joining Bruce will be R. Scott Jolliffe, chair and chief executive officer of Gowlings and Gary Luftspring, managing partner of Ricketts Harris. The Canadian Bar Association is in the midst of a first-of-its-kind comprehensive study of the future of the legal profession in Canada and beyond, their “Futures Initiative.” Gary, a leader of the Steering Committee for the Futures Initiative, will present a very brief overview of the Initiative and its analysis to date of the fast-changing legal environment.

The discussion will be followed by a cocktail networking reception. There is no charge for this event. Thanks to our friends at Recommind for sponsoring.

Please RSVP below. We look forward to seeing you in Toronto!

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