In-House Counsel

This is as close to titillating as I’ll ever get in one of these columns:  When a senior lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, what does that mean?

Basically, Ecclesiastes is all about changing jobs:  ”To every thing there is a season.”

When a partner at a law firm moves laterally in January, that’s like leaves changing in autumn.  The partner waited to receive his (or her) year-end bonus from firm A and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on to firm B.  That makes the lateral acquisition cheaper for the new firm.

The in-house world is a step slower:  When an in-house lawyer (or executive) moves to a new company in March or April, that’s like snow falling in winter.  The in-house person waited to receive his (or her) annual bonus in March (more or less) and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on.  That reduces the hiring cost for the new company.

But when an in-house lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, that’s a blizzard in May!  The game is afoot!  (Blogging is so good for me.  I just learned that Shakespeare said that first, although I was thinking of Sherlock Holmes (who said it later) when I typed the phrase.)  Quickly, Mr. Watson!  What can we deduce from an out-of-season executive departure?

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John Farren and Mary Farren

Lawyers John Michael Farren and Mary Margaret Farren were once a storybook couple. If Above the Law had been around in the nineties, they might have made the pages of Legal Eagle Wedding Watch. Mary Farren practiced energy law at the high-powered firm of Skadden Arps, where she attained the rank of counsel, and John Farren’s résumé was even more impressive: he served as general counsel to Xerox, a Fortune 500 company, before going on to serve as deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush.

Their success transcended their impressive job titles. She earned $500,000 a year at Skadden; he made millions as GC of Xerox. They had ample material wealth — $3 million in cash here, a $4.6 million mansion there — and two lovely daughters.

And then things went wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong….

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Ed. note: This post is written by Clint Russell at Prestige Legal Search. Check out their Prestige Rewards Program here, or email him here.

Bonuses are in. ‘Tis the season to lateral. Here’s what you need to know to make a move. Warning: some points are fairly obvious, many are overlooked, but all are important.

1. Start the process now.

Making a lateral move takes time. Unless the planets magically align for you, you’re likely looking at a couple-month process, start to finish. While that’s certainly not a bad thing (you should be exhaustive when making a career change), it does mean that you should start the process now if you’re planning on exploring your options after you collect your bonus in the upcoming weeks/months.

This is not to say that you should send your résumé to every recruiter that includes you in an e-mail blast in January. However, now is a good time to start taking all the necessary steps that come before sending out résumés and interviewing. These steps will help ensure that your lateral move will be as painless as possible.

The more organized you approach your search, the easier it will be for a good recruiter to get you what you want. This is typically a slow time of year for both work and lateral opportunities, so it’s a good time to get all your ducks in a row and be ready to take advantage of all the opportunities that interest you in 2014…

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I’m an honest guy: I confessed publicly when The New York Times solicited me to write a piece about the legal profession and then rejected my submission (because it had been preempted by a DealBook special).

I confessed publicly again when I submitted a second piece — this time about the future of legal education — and was again promptly rejected.

But enough of confessions: Today, I’m here to gloat! Here’s a link to “Have We Met?” which appeared yesterday in the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times.

Part of me says that I should end this column right here. I should say something snooty like, “Hey, Lat! I published an essay in the Times yesterday. Isn’t that enough recreational writing for a week? I’m outta here.” But Lat would probably complain, saying that I hadn’t pulled either my weight or enough people through the “continue reading” icon. What can I tuck behind that icon that will suck you through the jump?

Aha! Three things! First, how do you get an op-ed published in the Sunday Times? Second, if you pull off that feat, how much does the Times pay you for your work? And, finally, do I have a clever story linking what I wrote in the Times to Above the Law? You’re in luck! . . .

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Last week I wrote about weighing “the desperate need for a paycheck against the prospect of selling your soul, or at least performing work that you despise.” This week, I am writing about taking a non-legal job, and the potential consequences.

So, you have graduated with a mountain of debt and cannot find a job. It can seem like you are at the wrong end of a dead end street with an out of control steamroller headed your way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You might have more options than you think. Be creative, seek advice from several reliable sources, and you could land a position that isn’t perfect, but it will pay those bills.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Part Deux.”

How do you deal with a difficult client?

Don’t be ridiculous: I’m not a difficult client! You’re a difficult lawyer!

I’m pretty busy. So how many drafts of your brief do you think I want to review?

One, reflecting your very best work? Or six, with each version fixing a typo or massaging the language in footnote three, so that I can see your next iteration?

When do you think I want to see your draft?

The morning it’s due, so that I won’t have a chance even to read the thing and, if I manage to read it, you won’t have time to make corrections? Or three days before it’s due, so we have time to make the brief right?

Do you think I want to circle all the typos and cite-checking errors in the draft you send to me? Believe me, I do not want to do this. But I can’t help myself: I spent two years entombed in the sub-basement of the library at The University of Michigan cite-checking articles and imprinting the Bluebook on my brain. I’d be delighted not to notice your errors, but I don’t have that capacity. This stuff is hard-wired into my very core.

How about your run-on sentences, use of the passive voice, and other grammatical and stylistic errors?

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In a job market as dismal as this one, you would think that I would advise taking anything you can get. You would be wrong. I recommend carefully weighing the desperate need for a paycheck against the prospect of selling your soul, or at least performing work that you despise.

I am not talking about doc review, or procurement law here. I am talking about going to work for a Catholic organization when you are agnostic, or taking a gig in a firm that does work that is abhorrent to your belief system. It is easy to preach when one has a job, but I am routinely asked about obtaining in-house positions, and my experience (when I was too stupid, or afraid, to say “no”) gives me a certain gravitas when it comes to this issue….

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At big law firms, a few folks engage in “training,” but very few bother with “coaching.”

That is: A partner may spend a few minutes training you how to write a brief or take a deposition. But, if you prove ineducable, the partner will promptly cut his (or her) losses: He won’t ask for your help anymore; he’ll pluck you out of his life. You won’t be fired; you’ll simply be forced to solicit work from other partners. You’ll never be “coached” about what you did wrong, except (maybe) at the end of the year, when some guy you never worked with evaluates you by reading aloud a comment that “one partner said you don’t write very good briefs.”

Corporations are different. Coaching is the name of the game: You can’t think? We’ll coach you!

Can’t write? We’ll coach you!

Act like a jerk? We’ll coach you!

Break your arm? We’ll coach you!

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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…

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