In-house counseling

I am guessing that approximately six people will read this column. That’s down from the usual nineteen, and it is because this is the day before Thanksgiving 2012 — the Last Thanksgiving if the Mayans were right, and just another day gorging on turkey with the family if they were wrong. Since so few of us are toiling away today, I want to give thanks for some things, and to some people, instead of writing another piece on in-house life.

First, thanks to David, Elie, and Staci. It has been an adventure writing for you. I used to read this site every day, and enjoyed it more often than not. I am sure that one day we’ll meet face to face and share some cocktails, discuss open-toed shoes, and admire Staci’s weight loss and wedding ring.

Thanks to the other writers on this blog, especially Tom Wallerstein and Mark Herrmann. Among the other writers here, those two consistently cause me to attempt to step up my game. That is the mark of good writing, when you strive to write as well as those whom you admire.

Thanks to the Commentariat. I am inspired and chastened by your (sometime) wit, and disgusted by your depravity. However, and I mean this sincerely, you are like the hordes in the pit of the Globe theater, ready to throw waste or snark on a moments notice — sometimes deservedly so, and sometimes with good humor. I hope you find jobs, and that the Internets always remain anonymous for you….

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In-house lawyers receive a good amount of guidance on ways to effectively deal with business clients. However, we typically receive less direction on how to work well with another big, and in some ways, our biggest, “client”: our managers.

Managers differ. Some are very hands-off and rely on you to update them only when you think it’s necessary. (Sometimes you may need to remind them who you are.) Or you may have a micromanager. Does he insist that you provide him with a memo, with citations, for each bathroom break you plan take? Bingo. Management skills vary. Some managers sincerely care about your well-being, and others suspect everyone wants to off them for their job. There are those who want to be your bestest friend forever and ever, while others maintain a cool distance.

As a “direct report,” you need to learn how to effectively work with your manager’s style and preferences. Banging your head against your office wall is only one of many good options. There are also several “managing up” approaches that apply when working with nearly all managers, regardless of how much of a freakshow your own boss may be….

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Long ago, my law firm won an appeal, and we were thinking of publicizing the victory for the benefit of both the client and our firm.

“It’ll be good to get some attention,” I said to the senior partner.

“It’s easy to get attention,” said he. “Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We don’t want attention. We want good attention.”

The same could be said of corporate law departments: It’s easy to get attention. It’s harder to get attention for simply doing a good job.

Suppose you wanted your corporation’s law department to be the darling of the press and be nominated for “law department of the year” honors. What would you do?

It’s easy: Make the type of big, public announcements that draw attention: “Our law department is announcing three major initiatives. First, we’re announcing a pro bono initiative. All of our in-house lawyers will devote at least 500 hours per year to pro bono matters. Second, we’re implementing a diversity initiative. [Insert details here.] Third, we’re completely eliminating reliance on the billable hour. Henceforth, all of our law firms will work on flat-fee or other alternative billing arrangements.” (There are surely other items that one could add to this list, too, that are escaping my feeble imagination.)

Gin ‘em up. Send out a press release. Presto! Your law department would be the toast of the town. People would be beating down your doors seeking interviews. But what would you have accomplished?

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I have borrowed the Boy Scout motto because I am involved in a complex cross-border transaction. Yeah, I am not kidding. I am using today’s column to point up the importance of in-house counsel being involved in a difficult deal as close to inception as possible.

Usually, the field calls when there is an approval needed for some non-standard language, or a review of a legal concept is required. At this stage in a deal, the parties are well on their way to completion, and some legal issue has arisen. But, in a complex global agreement, there are numerous variables that one must remain on top of from the start. Foremost is an understanding of the deal itself. A very close second is an understanding of what exactly the Customer is expecting, having awarded an RFP to your company.

RFPs are quirky animals, rife with opportunity for miscommunication or differing interpretations of answers. The field has prepared its response in reaction to the knowledge that several competitors are bidding on the same deal. And we all know that field ops are known for their lack of puffery and straight arrow responses to questions like, “Can you deliver X in Dubai on a single day’s notice?” Not to denigrate field ops, but the answers are always, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” setting the Customer’s expectation at such a high level, that when it comes time to actually negotiate Ts and Cs, you, in-house lawyer-person, are going out to some very hungry wolves….

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It’s annoying when people talk about stuff they know little about. (Unless it’s on a law blog, in which case this is assumed.) Take Twitter. Most people I know who’ve decided that Twitter is a waste of time have either never used it or tried it out briefly and given up. It’s particularly annoying when you’re attending a social media CLE and one of the panelists says, “I don’t get Twitter.” I’ve seen this happen more than once and automatically think, “And I’m listening to you why…?”

Twitter is partly to blame for this. The site launched eight years ago with a prompt for users to answer the question, “What are you doing?” This led to the assumption that users would post stuff like they just had a soup and sandwich for lunch. As if any of us would care. Twitter has since updated the question to “What’s happening?” which is a more accurate reflection of the variety of content that’s actually shared on Twitter.

I’m one of those people who created a Twitter account some time ago and promptly forgot about its existence. Then, about two years ago, I decided to try Twitter out in earnest for two reasons: one that was related to work and the other that was much more selfish….

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I have to start by saying that the more Karl Rove tried to get the anchors to listen to him, the more he sounded like Milton desperately trying to hold on to his red stapler. Of course, that incident in “Office Space” didn’t end so well for the Initech building, but I digress. In any event, it is over — until Monday, when the cycle starts back up again. The most poignant moment for me last night was sharing a Garbage Plate with my son, who will be about to obtain his learner’s permit when the circus next comes to town. My prediction for 2016: Clinton in a landslide victory.

It is with optimism that I look forward to the close of 2012 and Q4. Business has been picking up and there are signs that the slog of economic momentum might continue to gain traction, and no matter your politics, you had better hope so. We all need each other right now, and not in a Kumbaya sort of way. Biglaw feeds off corporations, and corporations (who are people, too) require economies on local as well as global scales to continue to improve. But, as we see in parts of Europe, improvement is relative.

It could be catastrophic for even a single country to flounder, and the tenuous assistance being offered by stronger economies cannot last in perpetuity. Besides, I believe there’s a rule against that. Asia seems to be faring well, and will be a focal point in the next four years. Anyone who believed the blather from both candidates about “punishing” China needs to hear this — bull and sh*t. We rely so very heavily on China for its labor, imports, and other benefits, and China is so very deep into our economy, that any show of judicial force or otherwise is just that, a show….

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I’ve suggested in the past that law firms generally don’t bother with managing people, and I’ve heard a chorus of complaint: “But all I do is manage people! I’m a senior associate, and I spend my entire days begging, cajoling, and threatening junior associates and legal assistants to do their work. How can you say I don’t manage people?”

Read my lips: You don’t manage people.

You manage projects, and you mistakenly believe that’s managing people.

If you were managing people, you’d be doing about a half dozen things that are not currently on your plate . . . .

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Previously on Moonlighting, we considered some common mistakes that law firm attorneys make when pitching their firms to seek work from new clients. It featured such dramatic gems as: find out who our enemies are; BS sounds like… gee, whaddya know… BS; and cameos from other need-to-know concepts making their appearance on the big (computer) screen.

In this week’s episode article, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, with a remake that focuses on the in-house lawyer’s perspective. What are some ways that in-house lawyers can ensure that they get the most out of those pitch meetings?

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You’re an attorney at a mid-sized or large firm and have received an opportunity to pitch your firm’s work to a brand new prospective client. You’ve researched the company and the deals that your firm has worked on that would be a good match. All you have to do is go into the meeting sounding like you know what you’re talking about, and soon you’ll be raking in the hourly dough, right?

Perhaps. Many attorneys would be benefit from heeding Alexander Graham Bell’s words: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” A lot of you falsely believe you’re just unnaturally talented at just winging it. And most of the companies you pitch to will never tell you that no, you’re really not. What follows are some actual examples of some common mistakes that lawyers make when pitching their firms to in-house counsel….

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Life in a service profession — there’s nothing to it!

When you’re asked to do something, think about how you can make the other guy’s life as easy as humanly possible. Then, do precisely that. Presto! You’re a star!

When a client asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

When a partner asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

“On time” is typically pretty easy to understand: That means “on or before the established deadline.”

“Right” is slightly trickier: It certainly means, at a minimum, “done to the absolute best of your ability.” (There’s a chance that “the absolute best of your ability” won’t make the grade. That’s an individualized issue, not capable of being resolved in a blog post. But it’s a lock-cinch that you won’t make the grade by “submitting a crappy first effort, riddled with incomplete research, barely literate, and filled with typographical and grammatical errors, because all I’m really trying to do is get the client/partner off my back.”)

Now I’ve moved in-house, and life in an in-house service profession is just like life at a firm — there’s nothing to it! . . .

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