In-house counseling

Talking Heads was a teensy bit before my time, but some of you know the above lyric. I came into my own with music right around “Burning Down the House.” It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to appreciate the world of music instead of my world of music. Living in New York City at the time of Dinkins showed me just enough rough trade to appreciate what New York was like in the 70s. Today, clubs like CBGBs and Wetlands are but mere memories for those of us with enough memory remaining. If you want a taste of “old” New York, I recommend watching “Dog Day Afternoon,” or even “Do the Right Thing.”

These days it’s almost embarrassing to walk through Times Square with its Disney-fied atmosphere. I am all for safety when walking the streets of Manhattan, but velvet ropes outside of my old dive bars in now gentrified neighborhoods make me long for the days when the City had some edge. Some of you may not believe this, but Bryant Park was once avoided like the plague after a certain hour. There used to be a bar guide put out by some enterprising young men, and my then-girlfriend — now wife of 20 years — once highlighted the names of the watering holes we had visited. When we realized we had been in fully 70% of the bars in the book, we knew it might be time for a change.

The 70% part is absolutely true, but the real reason we left Manhattan was that she got into school in Boston and my acting career was at a standstill…

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I love personality tests. They serve numerous good and constructive purposes. And by “good and constructive,” I mean shamefully entertaining, such has finding out about the best ways to totally annoy your co-workers and how to play crazy mind games with them — core skills that you need to develop to perform effectively on the job.

So when a friend of mine pointed me to an article on personality tests titled The Unique Psychological World of Lawyers, I was intrigued. It’s an older article and a bit on the dry side (at least compared to some of the off-the-wall stuff you can find here on ATL), but the some of the observations and conclusions made in the article about lawyers’ personalities are extremely compelling….

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When my first son was born we happened to live next door to one of the cameramen for Law and Order. The original Law and Order, not “Law and Order: Poughkeepsie” or whatever.

Anyway, if you live or practice in New York City you have undoubtedly run into an active L&O set, as they film exterior shots on location as much as possible for more realism. One of the sets happened to be down the road from our house and David invited me, my wife, and son to visit. I will always remember the great Jerry Orbach and Jesse Martin being completely unassuming nice guys as they cooed over my little boy. It was a real treat.

The point to this anecdote is that I overheard someone say that a small table immediately behind me needed to be moved a few inches before the next shot. As I reached down to slide the table, David sharply whispered to me not to touch it, as “it was a union job” and one of “them” had to move the piece. I had to laugh, as it was foreign to me that someone had a designated job of table-moving. But, as I moved through Biglaw, I became aware that the same mindset applied to associates as well as partners – unless there was money to be made from a new matter, then a Labor partner could transform into a Patent partner in the blink of an eye….

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Quick! Grab that piece of paper in front of you!

Draw three circles, along the lines of a Venn diagram.

One circle represents the past; one represents the present; and one represents the future. Your three circles should show the relationship between past, present, and future.

People from different cultures tend to draw those circles very differently, and I’ll explain your cultural bias after the jump.

Why am I writing about this? Because my corporate law department recently held its global law conference, at which all of our lawyers from around the world gathered in one place for two days of meetings. (February in Chicago! Who could resist?) We’re quite an international group, and we invited a speaker (from one of our businesses, which consults on talent management issues) to talk to us about working on cross-cultural teams.

This is just the sort of touchy-feely stuff that I typically can’t bear, but this guy was actually pretty interesting. He both revealed the cultural biases of people within our group and gave some suggestions about how to work together more effectively in the future.

I’ve now stalled for long enough. If you’ve drawn your three circles representing past, present, and future, you’re allowed to click through the jump and learn about your cultural prejudices….

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Some of you might be old enough to recall the “comedian” from the mid-80’s who went by the moniker of Yahoo Serious. He had a nominal hit movie and his career died out soon after. He even tried to collect from Yahoo! for trademark infringement — yeah. Anyway, when learning the news of Marissa Miller’s recent edict (she’s the one with a nursery in her office) that Yahoo!’s telecommuting is about to end, my initial thought was, are they serious?

Now, I don’t know Tom Wallerstein — I know for sure I am no Tom Wallerstein in the writing department — but I will take on this issue of working from home, and its benefits.

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Before law school, I considered myself a pretty detail-oriented person, especially when it came to writing. After entering law school, I was dismayed to find myself to be unimpressively average in a group where just about everyone was anal about typos, grammar, spelling, etc. Then I spent a summer at a large law firm and was appalled to discover that in this environment, my technical abilities were best described as a meager “below average.”

A few years at large law firms set my anal retentiveness straight. I counted two spaces after a period (in the olden days when everyone seemed to agree it was the right thing to do); made sure semicolons, not commas, followed every colon; and ensured absolute consistency in underlining or bolding definitions. After a few years, I became satisfied that I had reached a black-belt level of ability to churn out a technically perfect document.

Then, I went in-house….

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I was working on an agreement yesterday with a contract specialist. Many companies have contract “specialists,” especially in the procurement area, who vet language and negotiate with vendors or buyers up to and until the point where legal assistance becomes necessary.

The problem with this model is that as these specialists, especially in procurement, become proficient in their positions, they can fall into the trap of thinking they are lawyers….

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Last week, I came across this great blog post: The Merits of Not Throwing Someone under the Bus. It touches on a few issues that come up all the time during the practice of law (and probably at any job that involves contact with other human beings, which I’m pretty sure describes a few of the legal ones out there, but correct me if I’m wrong).

In sum, Joey P. found herself in a situation in which she opted to be a team player by correcting some minor edits in a motion that another attorney in her office had prepared and then sending the document out to the client. Doesn’t sound like it would amount to anything, does it? Well, there was a big, dumb mistake in the motion, and the client emailed Joey to point out the blunder (while cc:ing a couple of partners because clients tend to be super nice and thoughtful like that).

Joey explained to her partner what had happened and wanting to be a team player, she took responsibility for not noticing the mistake made by the other attorney and decided not to rat that person out.

The way she handled the situation was pretty admirable (especially for a lawyer). There are, however, a couple of other steps that I would have taken if I had been in her situation that I think would have helped to further team dynamics and also to prevent a poor, innocent associate from being blamed for someone else’s screw-up….

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I kicked a hornet’s nest last week by bloviating about an anonymous someone else’s contrary opinion to mine regarding clerking. I banged out a column that I thought was interesting, and furthered my argument that taking a clerkship in this economy is better than being unemployed.

However, at the same time, I unfairly attacked someone with a differing opinion, and for that I am sorry. I have apologized to this person over email, and am doing so now in this column.

Foot in mouth disease seems to follow some of us like the cloud behind Pigpen. I can remember all the way back to sixth grade making fun of Mark something-or-other, for his constant coughing in class, only to be sternly told by the teacher that Mark had a serious illness. I recall making fun of the cashier in a hotel bar (whose bank count was always off) where I was employed in accounting, only to learn that he was a “Mainstreamed” employee. And then, of course there was last week’s column….

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Some of you went to law school knowing exactly what kind of lawyer you wanted to be when you grew up. You watched Law and Order or Boston Legal and decided that duking it out against an evil opponent in the courtroom (while engaging in inappropriate trysts on the side) is your thing. Or you may want to work on billion-dollar deals and attend fab closing dinners with high-level business executives. If so, you probably won’t find this article very useful.

Others of you went to law school because, well, the pre-med thing didn’t pan out and you figured there was nothing better to do. Or maybe you went because your parents really, really wanted you to, but arguing in court sounds intimidating and you really don’t care about negotiating fancy-pants deals. Or maybe the only thing you really care about at this point is landing a decent-paying job. And if it involves some upward mobility and you can also make use of your law school degree, well heck, that would be a plus. If any of this describes you, read on….

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