In-House Counsel

Betterment EventTransitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.

Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.

For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.

In partnership with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house, featuring GCs from Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.

Details and panelists appear below…

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I’ve never met you, but I assume that you’re incompetent.

I realize that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s time someone told you the truth.

Some people assume that strangers are competent. One of my colleagues in our Law Department said to me recently: “Outside counsel says we won’t have much liability in that case.”

I naturally asked, “Is he right?”

She was shocked: “He’s a partner at a well-respected firm. We hired him. I assume he’s competent.”

That got us to talking. My colleague gives strangers the benefit of the doubt; she assumes that people are competent until they prove otherwise. I’m exactly the opposite: When I meet you, my working assumption is that you’re inept. Over time, there’s a chance you’ll convince me that I’m wrong. (But probably not.)

Why do I assume that all new people I meet are incompetent?

No, that’s too easy. Here’s the better question: Why am I right to assume that everyone’s incompetent, and why is that a helpful way to go through life?

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What’s more stressful: working in-house, or working at a law firm? Conventional wisdom might say that law firm life is more stressful — but that’s not the case for everyone, as recently explained by one of our in-house columnists, Susan Moon.

So in-house lawyers might be more stressed than many people think. But at least they’re getting paid a pretty penny to put up with all these headaches — mo’ problems, mo’ money?

That’s one conclusion to be drawn from Corporate Counsel’s new rankings of the nation’s best-paid general counsel. Conventional wisdom holds that in-house lawyers earn less than their Biglaw counterparts — but top in-house lawyers, the GCs of the nation’s largest companies, earn sums that meet or even exceed Biglaw partner pay….

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Amal Alamuddin, ready to graduate from law school

* There’s a very good chance that if you go in-house, you could wind up making more money than even the wealthiest of Biglaw partners. But how much more? Take a look at the latest GC compensation survey. [Corporate Counsel]

* GM has hired outside counsel to review the way the company handles its litigation practices. Since we’re not sure which, we’ll take bets on whether this “well-respected outside law firm” is Wachtell or Jenner & Block. [WSJ Law Blog]

* A federal judge in California ruled that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional. It seems that allowing a defendant to live with the “slight possibility of death” violates the Eighth Amendment. Damn you, appeals! [New York Times]

* “He hasn’t been charged with anything at the moment and we’ll deal with the charges when they’re filed.” Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is currently being represented by Yale Law lecturer Eugene R. Fidell, a recognized military law expert (and husband of noted legal journalist Linda Greenhouse). [New Haven Register]

* We all know that George Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, has both beauty and brains. What we didn’t know is that she poses for incredibly embarrassing pictures, just like the rest of us. [Us Weekly]

* How do Americans feel about the Supreme Court’s recent cellphone privacy ruling, Riley v. California? [Digital Constitution / Microsoft]

Job stress is a big deal. It’s not just that it makes you feel constantly anxious and irritable and more likely to get involved in shouting matches — and that’s just with your alarm clock. Occupational stress impacts our overall well-being. For example, it increases marital strife and has also been more strongly associated with health issues than financial or family problems.

One way to avoid job stress is to avoid having a job. I know this may sound like a tempting alternative, but I’ve tried this at one point and found that it wasn’t an ideal option. Because when not working means that your hubby nags you every other minute to get your butt off the couch and clean off the month-old Cheetos stuck between your teeth, it’s still pretty stressful.

So assuming we’re forced to follow the conventional, non-lazy route, which is the better option from a stress perspective — working in-house or at a law firm? Well, it depends. Sorry, I know that it’s one of those typical, boring, hedgy responses that lawyers like to give every time they’re confronted with a question, but there really isn’t a more appropriate response….

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John Farren and Mary Farren

When we last checked in on John Michael Farren, the former general counsel to Xerox and deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush, things were not going well for him. Back in December, a jury found him liable for assault and battery against his former wife, Mary Margaret Farren. The jury awarded Mary Farren some $28.6 million in damages — an amount that reflected the brain injury and emotional trauma suffered by Mrs. Farren, who went from a lucrative job at Skadden to unemployment.

Criminal charges against Mike Farren remained pending at the time of the civil verdict. On Friday, the criminal case got resolved — and not in a manner favorable to Mike Farren….

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I never heard these words before I went in-house: “If you send something to a person above me in the hierarchy, then send a copy to me, too.”

Now I hear (or speak) those words all the time. And those instructions seem pretty easy to grasp.

Remarkably, a fair number of people don’t seem to understand what those words mean.

I offer this column for the benefit of in-house newbies, and in-house oldbies who don’t understand, and lawyers at firms who might want to consider whether these instructions make sense at law firms, too.

If you’re sending something to someone above me in the hierarchy, then send a copy to me, too.

Why?

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No, not that kind of chambers.

I’m in-house, so Chambers & Partners — one of the outfits that rates lawyers and law firms — sent me a free copy of their 2014 guide.

If you’re profiled in that book, you get to write your own (very short) bio. You get something like 50 words to convince the world to hire you. So what did one person, from the distinguished firm of Bigg & Mediocre, write? I’ll slightly alter the bio, to disguise the guilty, but you’ll get my point:

Charles Darnay has argued more appeals in the Second Circuit than any other lawyer at Bigg & Mediocre.”

This guy isn’t competing for business with other law firms; he’s trying to steal business from his own partners! His pitch is not: “I’m better than other lawyers in the world.” Instead, it’s: “I may not be better than most lawyers in the world, but at least I’m better than any of the other clowns you’ll find here at B&M.”

Very nice. But that’s not the best of it; Chambers conceals many secrets . . .

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The week of the Fourth of July is a lonely one for Americans here in London. The Brits just don’t appreciate the Revolutionary War the way we do. And you see other occasional signs of hostility, too. When I arrived in London nearly two years ago and wrote a column about my initial reactions, a British legal website promptly linked to my work and illustrated the piece with a picture of Old Glory in flames.

I’m back for more, to celebrate the Fourth in style.

When asked, how do I describe my current living arrangements?

“I have an apartment in Chicago and a flat in London.”

Isn’t that odd? I automatically translate from American English — “apartment” — to British English — “flat” — as my brain imagines the transatlantic journey.

I also now naturally think in Celsius — 0 is freezing; 20 is room temperature; 35 is miserably hot — without doing a mental detour through Fahrenheit. But I still think in dollars. When I see that a half dozen eggs cost two pounds, I’m outraged that I’m being charged nearly three fifty for the item in my shopping cart. I don’t (yet) naturally think in sterling.

So I’ve generally adjusted to my new life, but things can still occasionally get spooky . . .

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Most lawyers do not cheat.

But a few do, and they think they’re being clever.

A cheating contract lawyer reads a novel all day, codes a couple hundred documents as “non-responsive” at ten to five, and then heads home.

Cheating junior associates record a few hours that they didn’t actually work. They assuage their guilt: “I’m more efficient than other people are, so I did this more quickly than the average guy. It’s not cheating if I write down how long it should really take to do this job.” And then the cheating associates mysteriously hit their billable-hour targets for the year.

Cheating junior partners are different. Short on work but desperate to bill time, these junior partners hoard work that they should naturally pass down to associates: “I have some free time, and I’m a very talented guy. I’ll write the brief more quickly than an associate would, anyway. I’ll just do it myself, and then I won’t have to worry about being held out of the equity ranks because I haven’t worked hard enough this year.”

But how do senior partners cheat?

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