In-House Counsel

Liz Murray overcame tremendous odds as she transformed herself from a homeless teen to a Harvard graduate. Her transformation was portrayed in a 2003 Lifetime Television movie, From Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. Murray reduced her very personal story to writing in September 2010, in a moving, loving, beautiful autobiography, Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard (affiliate link), which within one week landed on the New York Times bestseller list.

Murray’s accolades are numerous, including The White House Project Role Model Award, a Christopher Award, and Oprah Winfrey’s first-ever Chutzpah Award. Murray is the founder and director of Manifest Living, a company based in New York that aims to empower anyone who has the desire to change their life. She is also a motivational speaker and will be the keynote speaker on November 8, 2013, at the National Association of Women Lawyers’ Ninth Annual General Counsel Institute in New York….

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When you’re a real litigator — at a firm, in the trenches, arguing stuff and getting your hands dirty — you see and hear the coolest things.

So I’m sharing a couple of litigation war stories with you today, and soliciting you to share others in the comments.

I’m in the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco. My case is third or fourth on the calendar, so I’m watching the arguments before mine. In the first case, the appellant had been convicted of a bunch of gruesome crimes. It was hard to tell without having read the briefs, but the litany plainly included rape, murder, and the desecration of a corpse. Defense counsel had not exactly lucked out in the selection of an appellate panel: He was arguing to three female judges, all of whom had formerly been prosecutors.

For reasons not entirely clear, counsel was trying to reverse the conviction for desecration of a corpse. He insisted that no evidence supported the verdict, because there was no evidence (I kid you not) that the defendant had jammed the stones inside the victim after she had died. As one of several arguments, counsel tried an appeal to reason. He asked the (seemingly) rhetorical question: “But why would my client have shoved rocks inside the body after she was dead?”

The question wasn’t so rhetorical, after all. One of the judges leaned forward incredulously and asked, with a snarl: “Excuse me, but . . .

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The future of elite Biglaw firms?

Historically, the elite Biglaw firms derived safety and security from the knowledge that they could depend on big fees from large institutional clients. After all, where would the big dogs feel confident sending their legal work if not to a giant, white-shoe firm, with a complete support staff and the cream of the law school graduating crop? It encouraged behemoth firms and no small amount of complacency.

No one doubts that we’ve entered a new normal and that Growth Is Dead (affiliate link), but a new study confirms that there’s even more bad news for the top Biglaw firms: GCs simply don’t want them any more…

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I found today’s piece on contract attorneys interesting, given that I just attended an e-discovery CLE program run by a local firm (Ward Greenberg) last week. The program centered around the practicalities and ethics of e-discovery and the case law surrounding those topics.

I admit to being taken aback at how times have changed since I was utilizing an OCR viewer to review documents while searching for keywords to code. Those were the days. As mentioned in the contract attorney column, doc review was a sure way to meet and exceed billable-hour targets simply by doing essentially monkey work. And the firms were all too happy to bill me at out at hundreds of dollars per hour for looking over repetitive and duplicative documents.

Now that I am in-house, I would have a conniption fit if a firm tried to pull such a stunt — and I don’t think many firms would….

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Alright, alright: At one level, it is about the money.

If you’re saddled with $100,000 in student debt and you’re unemployed, some money would help.

But if you’re making $160,000 in your first year out of law school, it’s not about the money.

When I entered the legal workforce, the “going rate” and terms of employment varied regionally in the United States. I chose to work in San Francisco — earning less than the going rate in New York and being entitled to only three weeks of vacation each year, instead of the four offered elsewhere — because I preferred San Francisco to New York. It wasn’t all about the money.

I chose to work at a small firm (I was the 21st lawyer at the joint) — knowing full well that my annual raises would be less at my small firm than they would have been at a large one — because I wanted real responsibility early in my career. It wasn’t all about the money.

When I later moved to one of the biggest firms in the world, it still wasn’t all about the money . . . .

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* The shutdown has shuttered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I’m not really comfortable living without those regulators. [Breaking Energy]

* Don’t bother Goldman Sachs’s general counsel with your silly little questions. [Dealbreaker]

* The decisions you make in your twenties are rarely life-threatening. So get out there and make some atrocious life-decisions, kids! [Legal Cheek]

* Lawyer sent to prison for plotting to help a client hide jewels. That sounds way dirtier than it is. [ABA Journal]

* In scary news, Adrian Peterson’s 2-year-old son was brutally beaten. [TMZ]

* In case you missed our round-up, here are ten more highlights from a recent interview with Justice Scalia. He’s apparently a big Duck Dynasty fan, which explains a lot. Video embedded after the jump… [Bloomberg Law via YouTube]

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Sometimes the greatest truths are revealed in the most frivolous things. At least this guy hopes so. After the Atlanta Braves[1]
lost the NLDS, he hopped on his computer and drafted a full letter to Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia complaining about the result and begging for government intervention to set things right.

I mean, can’t something be done to hijack the results of the last contest?

You see where he’s going with this. The letter carefully — and comically — exposes the insanity of the government shutdown that Kingston enthusiastically supports.

And then Kingston responded with a letter that was, um, not as clever….

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Welcome to Above the Law’s newest feature, Fun With Fine Print. This occasional column will chronicle especially clever or awful examples of legalese, fine print, disclaimers, disclosures, and the like. Our readers who spend so much time toiling over contractual language, drafting it beforehand or litigating it after the fact, will hopefully appreciate — and contribute to — this feature.

We’ll start things off with an example of infamous fine print. Earlier this year, Subway got torpedoed over its regrettable response to a customer complaint. After Australian teenager Matt Corby complained that his “footlong” Subway sub was a mere eleven inches, Subway invoked the following fine print: “With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.” Personally speaking, I think eleven inches is more than enough — but based on the uproar and litigation, maybe I’m in the minority.

Now let’s look at legalese worth celebrating, for its cleverness and its clarity. It also comes from a fast-food provider….

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This begins my third year of writing for ATL. I am thrilled that our relationship has flourished, and I look forward to continuing this column for some time. When I read over some of my past columns, I realized that vindication of some of my points of view (poor vetting by JPMorgan, the market falling with the continuing shutdown) feels quite a bit better than having to offer mea culpas. Making mistakes is part of life. Making mistakes in a large and public forum is a good argument for not writing. I closed my comments section fairly recently as I believed that the comments had devolved from intellectual snark to a level above scat humor. Maybe it was the summer that brought out the “challenged.” All I know is that it is good to have a cast of regulars back in the fold, and my comments have been re-opened for weeks.

In the coming year, I am going to be doing more interviewing about in-house life…

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101 Central Park West: home to celebrities, a billionaire’s daughter, and an in-house counsel.

Earlier this year, we wrote about a commendable initiative at Pace Law School called New Directions. It’s a program devoted to helping lawyers who have left the profession, many of them stay-at-home mothers, get back into the world of practice.

The New York Times profiled a few of the program’s graduates. One of them, Jeannette Rossoff, graduated from Boston University School of Law, worked at Shearman & Sterling for a few years, then left the workforce for twenty years to raise four children. After her children were grown, she completed the New Directions program, interned for the New York State attorney general’s office, then landed an in-house job with a nonprofit.

It’s nice that Mrs. Rossoff is back to practicing law, but it certainly wasn’t necessary. If you can afford to live in a $12 million apartment with monthly maintenance charges of almost $7,000, “work” is optional….

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