In-house

Q: What’s one way in which the non-lawyers at your company are just like law firm partners?

A: Each person cares almost exclusively about her own work and her own little universe. And expects you to do the same. There’s no reason why Finance, Customer Service, HR, and Marketing can’t all be the most important function in the company is there?

Business people don’t have much incentive to give you a lot of time to review or prepare a legal document or address an issue. Generally, the faster they’re able to close deals, offer new products and services, and complete projects, the more quickly the company will make money and they’ll get the pats on the back. It’s actually hard to blame them for wanting everything done ASAP. Heck, I’d be the same way if I were on the business side.

From a quality of work and life perspective, though, “ASAP” is a bad way for a lawyer to go about things. Work quality decreases while stress levels increase. To manage ASAP requests, try to distinguish between the types of requests and collaborate with the business folks to meet their needs….

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I watched the sunset with my son last night. I told him that today would never come again, and that I was so happy to have watched the day end next to him. It then occurred to me that I had missed so many events since becoming a practicing lawyer; and for what? The easy answer is that I was such a hungry young turk, that I would always choose work over play because that is what lawyers do. Especially Biglaw attorneys. It was simply a rite of passage to regularly catch the 8:03 p.m. with a couple of oilcans of Foster’s Lager, arrive home after 9 p.m., and be up again at 6 a.m. to rinse and repeat.

Even more hardcore was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to prepare a brief for filing. Associates would lament, with an undercurrent of braggadocio, about how they had to cancel a vacation in order to complete a filing. And the funny thing is, I don’t recall any partners cancelling anything — ever. So, the hard (and candid) answer is that I was a fool….

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So you like being an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer. Wonder if M&A work is different in-house compared to private practice? It’s just slightly different. Like maybe about 90% slightly different.

If you’re an M&A lawyer at a firm, your main responsibilities on a deal will be to draft the purchase agreement and other documents, actually review all of the due diligence on the company to be acquired, advise on and negotiate various legal issues, and keep track of everything that needs to be signed, filed, and otherwise happen from a legal standpoint to “close the deal.” The other primary value that outside M&A counsel provide is to inform on what’s standard and market in M&A deals and arrangements. This all sounds like a lot. And it is.

But because the tasks required of outside counsel are pretty much “pure legal” items, they’re a fraction of the amount of work that needs to be done by the in-house M&A attorney, who gets to manage all of the above, plus much of the non- or pseudo-legal stuff that the rest of the company actually cares about…

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Last week, I wrote about how gossiping at the office can indicate that you’re in dire need of soft skills training or may be a pathetic, passive-aggressive coward. Or, more likely, both. After I submitted the post to ATL, David Lat (aka The Legal Gossipmonger Grandmaster) reminded me that hey, gossip can be positive too! The Grandmaster was absolutely right, of course, as my article had really only focused on the type of gossip where people whine and complain about their coworkers.

I thought, hmm, true — gossiping at work can definitely have a positive impact on you if you’re gaining information that will be useful to you on the job. Like finding out about which IT dude won’t treat you like the complete tech idiot that you are. Thanks to one of the commenters, I decided to dig a little further into what some of the other positive effects of gossip could be. And I was surprised by what I learned….

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Ed. note: This is a continuation of last week’s post by in-house columnist David Mowry, True Confessions (Part I).

I decided that it was somehow a good idea to live apart from my (pregnant) wife and 3-year-old son for about a year. I needed a job. I was scared and desperate, my clerkship was ending, and I had no prospects in D.C. or New York. So, I headed to Rochester.

At first, it was great to have law firm money coming in, and my salary and relative short distance from Rochester to Maryland allowed me to either drive or fly down to BWI on the weekends. But soon, the rigors and expectations of moving from junior to senior litigation associate began to make such trips difficult, and always stressful. This was when Citrix connections and Wi-Fi were in their infancy, and of course our house was just in a valley deep enough to cause problems with me connecting.

Stress soon turned potent as the pending birth of our second son was timed to occur with the due dates of several motions and depositions, etc. The Rochester partner for whom I was doing a majority of my work was not pleased that I took time to be in D.C. waiting for the baby to be born. The situation took a toll on me, my wife, and our son.

On the day of my wife’s labor, D.C. experienced the backlash of an East Coast hurricane, and a storm was brewing with my lawyer gig as well. Things were coming due, communication with the home office was difficult at best, and my work was suffering; I was suffering. I still have the emails that came to me in the delivery room and during recovery. I was torn between being present with my wife during this most important time, and trying to please the boss(es) in Rochester.

A mere two weeks after my son was born, we were caravanning to our new house upstate. Oh yes, I failed to mention that I was house hunting up until the date I traveled to D.C. to be with my wife while we awaited the due date. It was more than enough to break me….

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Writing at Above the Law brings you fame, if not fortune: Two different groups (an ABA Committee and a CLE outfit) recently asked me to help design courses that would be irresistible to all in-house lawyers. These guys wanted me to pick topics for “must attend” programs — events that no in-house lawyer could afford to miss.

My first reaction was this: Are you kidding me?

If I’d stumbled onto the “must read” topic for all in-house lawyers, don’t you suppose I would have shared that insight in these columns? If I knew what everyone really wanted to know, would I still be filling my twice-weekly slot here at ATL with random musings and pontifications?

But my second reaction was better: Now, at long last, I’ve figured it out….

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So, OMG you seriously haven’t heard that Brittany likes Mark, but Mark likes Claire even though he’s flirting with Brittany? Yeah, Mark — the guy who’s so dumb that the last time he cheated on a test he still failed… I know right, he’s so hot!

High school gossip can cover many aspects of life. Sometimes the chatter is about school and tests. Sometimes it’s about who got invited to the cool parties and got sick on the street later. But most often, it’s about juicy dish. (Kind of like ATL, pimply puberty-style, except… hmm, never mind, it’s just like ATL.)

In-house gossip is thoroughly less satisfying. It’s more about who ticked off whom a couple of years ago, who’s slacking off and getting away with it when the rest of us can’t, and who could vie for the gold if kissing up to senior executives were an Olympic event. The juicy stuff that I used to get wind of once in a while from law firm peers seems rare in an in-house setting. Little did I realize that I was giving up such a quality of life factor when taking this job. People really need to give you a heads up about these things.

Seriously though, kids who gossip in high school are immature. But, well, that’s just about everybody in high school, so it’s all good. (The mature ones are the weirdos — avoid them like the plague, high school kiddies.) Gossiping at work, however, is viewed as less acceptable and is instead indicative of needed soft skills improvement…

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“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so sh*tty. And he’d say, ‘That’s the way it goes, but don’t forget, it goes the other way too.’ That’s the way [life] is… Usually, that’s the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too.” Alabama Worley, True Romance.

Someone wrote in recently that “it was about time that I was giving honest appraisals of real life,” or something to that effect. Obviously, I can’t sit here and name names from my past or current positions. But after thinking it through, I decided to give an assessment of how I landed here in-house, inclusive of as much truth as is prudent. Keep in mind that this post is in two parts, and due to space constraints, I simply can’t give all the details and dirty little secrets….

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Last month, a group named Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) announced a study in which they identified eight qualities of successful legal executives. The study found that these accomplished folks exhibited greater levels of certain traits compared to your average Executive Joe Schmoe, Esq. The results, while informative, weren’t all that surprising. (It’s cool how hindsight works that way.) There were two traits, however, that RRA zeroed in on in their write-up of the study.

One was “excitability.” Successful legal executives got frazzled about 20% less than the average legal executive and even than the average non-legal executive. The gap in excitability was even wider between Successful GC and Not-Successful GC. So all of you lawyers who have a tendency to hyperventilate over every little fire drill can do yourselves a favor and think calm thoughts when you find that your prized pen has been moved from the right side of your desk to the left.

The other trait that RRA considered noteworthy is one they referred to as “mischievousness.” Their evaluation of mischievousness, however, is really just a brilliant scam….

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There have lately been a flurry of articles, blog columns, and opinions strewn about whether a woman can have a baby and run a corporation. Filtered down to a finer point, especially relevant to this site, is whether lawyers can have it all. The answer, in my opinion, is no. A distilled or altered sense of “all” perhaps, but truly having it all, where you commit fully to your work and home life? Not so much. And to commit the foul of using lawyer “weasel words” — it depends.

When I am asked for advice from folks who read this column, or others practicing law or about to, I usually begin by assessing where that person is in life….

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