In-House Counsel

Suppose your company has a system: All payments are run through the finance center in New York; all emails are encrypted by a certain process; all reports on a certain subject contain items 1 through 10.

As sure as I’m sitting here, someone on the sales side of your company will tell you that we must make an exception for his new client. For this client only, we should run the payments through Canada, use a different encryption service, or delete item 5 and add items 11 through 14 to the report.

Because you’re reasonable, you’ll explain that this isn’t possible: “We have a system that is hard-wired into the computers. We have 3000 different clients. We are able to offer clients only what the system permits. If we start making exceptions for particular clients, then costs will escalate and we’re sure to make mistakes. Please don’t ask us to tailor our systems to fit your client, because we just can’t.”

The sales guy will then sputter and turn red in the face: “But this client is different! This is the firm’s biggest client! And the best! And the one with the highest margin!” . . .

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I have heard the ad messages many times: “hire a veteran, hire an older person, hire the handi-capable.” (First commenter to get that last reference wins). As someone who went through a period of “transition” — read: “you’re not going to make partner, you might want to start looking,” I know all too well the difficulty of a job search. And this was before the current down times in hiring. I would say that one of the worst aspects of such a job search is sending off the application packet to unknown, faceless people who likely have a pile of hundreds of such packets to sift through. It’s the faceless part that is the focus of today’s column.

As an in-house attorney, I am fortunate to be on the buy side in one aspect of my job — hiring outside counsel. Firms clamor for our attention (and dollars) and it is nice to be on this side of that fence. Business development is hard. And it sucks. But in our community we have a perfect storm for the idea I am proposing today — we have a large pool of “in transition” attorneys and we have several firms of moderate to large size all wanting business from my company. So I propose the following: we have an event where a pool of these in transition folks are in a room with representatives from the firms, and where face-to-face networking can take place and résumés can be left with actual people…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Hey, Let’s Look At A Different Pool Of Applicants For A Change”

If you aspire to work in Biglaw, it’s likely that you’ve already got a certain air of je ne sais quoi about you. You’re probably a prestige whore who looks down your nose at others whom you deem to be inferior to you. You probably think you’re the sh*t, and you firmly believe that others should think so too. You know people call you a jerk behind your back, but you don’t care because you know they’re just jealous. You are the most special and unique of all snowflakes, and people should be honored to breathe the same air as you.

Congratulations! You’re an arrogant a-hole, and there are many firms that would be glad to have you among their ranks — because according to the latest survey results, they’re filled to the brim with people just like you.

Which Biglaw firms are just as cocky as you are? Luckily, there’s a ranking for that…

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My column at Above the Law turns three today. Let’s celebrate!

What are the coolest websites for you to visit?

If you never watched this episode of “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” then you missed a treat. Turn down the volume and click through; it’s my birthday!

If you’re not a connoisseur of lowbrow humor, then click here and play the geography game instead! If you’re even slightly nerdy, it’ll entertain you for hours. Go ahead, it’s my birthday!

If you don’t like jokes or games, then you’re a stiff. No matter; you can join the party anyway! One website guaranteed to fascinate stiffs has created some remarkable maps; I’ve linked here to one showing all nuclear explosions since 1945. If that map doesn’t tickle you, click through the categories and find others that do. Go ahead; it’s my birthday!

Where else? Click here . . . .

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It was one of those calls where the Customer just wants to vent to someone perceived to be in authority. They are upset at your Company for something or other, and have already taken the sales team to task. Now, it’s your turn. Some might say that the weight of the Customer on your bottom line should determine the amount of obsequiousness you serve. I would argue that in the scheme of things, it really does not matter the size of the Customer, falling on one’s sword can repair damage quicker than a protracted rant session that ultimately devolves into he said, she said.

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Would you rather be a great lawyer or be perceived as being a great lawyer?

For many people, I think the answer to that question varies over time: At age 30, you’d rather be a great lawyer. At age 60, you’d rather be perceived as being a great lawyer.

Why?

Because, over time, your reputation may come to track reality. If you’re perceived as great when you’re 30, but you’re actually no good, that truth may out over time. As you age, your reputation may catch up with you.

By the time you’re 60, your professional horizon will have shortened, and it’s less likely that the world will unearth your incompetence. If you’re perceived as being a great lawyer when you’re 60, you may well make it to retirement unscathed.

What of law firms? Would you rather that your firm be great or be perceived as being great?

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Judy Sheindlin once told me, “don’t go to law school, the world has enough lawyers.” My response was, “that may be true, but are there enough ‘good’ lawyers.” I posit that the answer is no, there are not enough ‘good’ lawyers. We practice in a field where there is certainly of glut of licensed professionals. And unlike doctors, there is not a constant worldwide need for our services, no matter how self-important we have deluded ourselves to be. I wrote last week about attending the ACC Annual Meeting, and having an enlightened moment of how very much in this field I don’t (can’t) know. Not for want of desire, but because of the evolution of technology, and good old case law.

It made me truly feel for those folks tasked with compliance for their companies….

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As we have discussed the past two weeks, Biglaw business development is not easy. The available flavors at the Biglaw business development ice cream stand are hardest (cold calls), harder (intra-firm networking and beauty contests), and plain old hard. As in turning referrals and unsolicited contacts from prospective clients into engagements. That is hard to do, but nowhere near as difficult as trying to land the matter when the prospective client has not invested in contacting you beforehand, or at least heard about you from a source that they trust. There is a reason rainmakers take the largest share of the Biglaw pie, even at white-shoe lockstep firms.

Getting other lawyers to refer you matters, even from within your own firm, is hard. The foundation one needs to generate referrals is the exact same one that is required to have success generating business through other methods. But there is an extra ingredient, or at least a greater emphasis on a particular ingredient, that needs to be there if you hope to get referrals. That ingredient? Let’s call it likability. No matter how skilled a lawyer you are, or how hallowed your reputation, you simply must be likable in order to generate referrals. Of course, the definition of likability becomes quite a bit more expansive when applied to lawyers considered at the top of their fields. Simply put, the person referring you has to feel good about making the referral, and they are much more likely to feel good if they consider you an agreeable person, at least to do business with.

Unsurprisingly, the definition of likability in the Biglaw context is quite different from the standards we normally apply when talking about the real world. For those who like analogies, consider that Biglaw likability is to indisputable real-world likability as Biglaw “hot” is to indisputable real-world hotness….

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I typically limit myself to one rant per column; today, I’m letting fly with two.

My first (narrow) rant is aimed at the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio: Hey, guys, have you heard? It’s the 21st century!

I have the misfortune to live overseas (in London) while maintaining licenses to practice law in three states — California, Illinois, and Ohio. California and Illinois give continuing legal education credit for courses taken by webinar, which seems entirely reasonable in today’s world. Ohio alone opts against reason; for standard CLE credits (as opposed to self-study or publication credits), you must attend a CLE class in person. Riddle me this: Where do you find a live, in-person CLE class in London, England, that’s approved for Ohio CLE credit?

When I was recently back in the states, I was forced to endure 2 1/2 consecutive days of live CLE courses, which will keep me in the Ohio bar’s good graces for the next couple of years. But now I’m throwing down the gauntlet, Ohio: I’m not doing this again in 2015! Give CLE credit for webinars, or I’ll go inactive in Ohio, survive on my California and Illinois licenses, and you’ll be out the $350 registration fee! Not only that — I’ll lobby every other similarly situated person to do the same! It’ll cost you millions! (Shhhh! Please don’t tell the folks at the Ohio bar that I’m probably rallying a group of one: All lawyers licensed in both Ohio and another state — so they can go inactive in Ohio and keep on practicing — while living overseas. If I don’t tell the Ohio bar folks and you don’t tell ‘em, they’ll probably never figure it out. After all, these are the clowns who didn’t think to give CLE credit for webinars.)

But that’s all process; now I’m moving on to substance. The CLE presentations themselves provoke today’s second rant. What mistake, I ask you, do you see made by just about everyone who teaches CLE courses (or, indeed, gives any presentations to live audiences)? More to the point, how can you avoid embarrassing yourself publicly when you speak?

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Arriving home exhausted on the red eye from Los Angeles, site of this year’s ACC Annual Meeting. Tired though I may be, I am refreshed and energized about my job. Sharing a large convention center with in-house counsel of all stripes and from around the world is fantastic. I get to share ideas, learn more about topics that I don’t touch in my everyday practice, and collect a raft of CLE credits. I also get to network to my heart’s content. All of those things are integral to success for today’s in-house counsel.

I have written about the importance of those topics individually over the past years, and the chance to experience them in a three day conference can really change your frame of reference, and refocus your mind on just how much is out there that you don’t know. It’s like the old law school joke about the gunner who came to class not having finished the day’s reading. When asked “why” by the professor, she said, “I kept following the case cites and never got to the end.” There really is that much out there. And after sitting in on a CLE about social media and big data, there is so much more that just keeps on coming…

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