Moonlighting

In-house legal titles can be confusing as hell. Unlike at law firms, where there are typically just a handful of attorney titles — Partner, Associate, Counsel/Special Counsel/Of Counsel, and maybe Senior Attorney — there are dozens of legal titles floating around out there in in-house outer space. And of course there’s little consistency between companies.

I say we tackle it from the top because it’s easy. Everyone knows what a General Counsel is. Or do we?

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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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In last week’s Moonlighting, we checked out what several general counsels and chief legal officers considered to be the worst aspects of their job. And all of us in junior positions and middle management cried a tear for them.

This week, we’re going to look at what those GCs and CLOs said are the absolute bestest things ever about being the head of a legal department. Dare to take a guess? Is it the fact that they’re compensated with tons of cash, stock options, and other sweet benefits as a member of the exclusive C Suite? Or that law firm partners are as attentive to them as valets are to earls and dukes on Downton Abbey? Or that the Red Sea parts whenever they raise a staff over it?

Apparently there are greater benefits to being a GC than any of those above. And this includes one that was listed in last week’s column as a reason you wouldn’t want to be the GC….

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A lot of in-house attorneys dream of reaching the top someday. And when they fall short of becoming the Managing Editor for Above the Law, they look to general counsel positions instead.

You get paid the big bucks, fly first class everywhere, and get to boss around outside law firms. What’s not to like?

I decided to find out. I checked with several general counsels (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) (note — no one at my company), to learn what they think really sucks about being at the top of the legal hierarchy….

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Think good deeds are only for good people? Every once in a while, an uncommon opportunity comes along in which even grinchy, ol’ meanies can contribute positively to society. On occasion, jerks are mistaken for people who actually care about others and, if they’re lawyers, they may be asked if they would be willing to do a mock interview for a law student or junior attorney.

If you’re a jerk, I have good news for you. Your natural grouchy demeanor could make you an ideal candidate to give mock law interviews. This is your chance to fully exhibit your abominable self and earn the sincere appreciation of others at the same time. It’s a true win-win situation!

Because when it comes to practice interviews, many interviewers try to pretend that they’re the ones who are actually interviewing someone for a real job at their law firm or company. Silly counselors….

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If you work as a corporate lawyer at a law firm, you aren’t usually making distinctions between legal issues and business issues. There are just issues. You spot all of the potential ones that you can come up with (hoping to God that those are most of the ones out there), share them with your client, and your client decides how to proceed from there.

If you work as corporate lawyer at a company, you need to keep these two types of issues straight for a couple of reasons. First, the type of issue you’re dealing with will determine how much authority you have on the matter. Your authority on a legal issue? A respectable amount. Your authority on a business issue? Diddly squat. If even that much.

Second, it’s important that you know the difference because, a lot of the time, your business people won’t have a clue. Especially some of the more junior-level people. And it’s your pleasant duty to inform them…

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Holiday season is in full blast now, so what better time to discuss traditional end-of-year topics like performance reviews, gifting at the office, and what it’s like to advise business clients. Okay, so maybe that last one’s not quite the merrily common topic at around this time. But I’m already getting weary of all this have a happy holiday however it is you celebrate, and here are also some brand-spanking new year wishes thing, so bah. This is what we’re talking about today.

How companies expect their lawyers to advise them differs among companies. If you’re lucky, you work among people who appreciate and value lawyers for both their legal advice and their business sensibilities. (And if you’re really lucky, among people who are strangely okay with you blogging on an occasionally gossipy legal news site.) Business people who listen to your legal and business advice may respect that you work across several business units and get to see stuff that the individual groups don’t. Or they may just blindly trust you. That works too (for you).

At other companies, business people just want the in-house lawyer to stay focused on talking about legal issues and only legal issues, and don’t want to hear about any of the non-legal perspectives the lawyer may have to offer. And of course, there are other business people who don’t even really care for listening to any of the legal stuff (this may pose a bit of a problem if lawsuits or jail are some of the things they are interested in avoiding).

To be fair, the level of appreciation that business people have for their counsel’s advice, whether legal or non-legal, depends a lot on the individual lawyer’s capabilities….

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You know that there are a lot of holiday parties going on when planning to hang at another one starts to feel like a burden. Even if there’s karaoke involved. This is what happens when bar associations seem to have forgotten that there is now newfangled technology such as email and phones that can be used to avoid scheduling their holiday parties all during the same one week in December. Yes, I’m looking at you, NY/NJ minority bars.

Networking in festive environments is kind of like opening a nicely-wrapped holiday gift. It’s out of the ordinary and there’s a bit of surprise involved. But as with gifts, you don’t find out until after you’ve engaged someone new in conversation whether it’s just what you were hoping for or kind of… meh.

As with many things in life, preparation is key. Preparing for cocktail schmoozefests is easy. Look your best — clothes, hair, teeth — looking fabulous will help you to feel more confident as well. Have an interesting elevator speech ready and bring lots of business cards.

And please avoid these networking blunders….

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After much reflection and consideration, I am pleased to report that I have decide to leave this miserable in-house gig and return to glorious law firm life. I’ve recently accepted an offer to slave away work at the Big City office of the prestigious Biglaw, Biggerlaw & Biggestlaw LLP.

Why leave in-house life? Here are some reasons…

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Ahh, on the cusp of December. A month that brings another full year to a close with annoyingly cheery carols overtaking radio stations, multi-colored lights and decorations dredged up from years past, and an excuse to fill up on a week’s worth of heavy food in one sitting because, after all… it’s family time.

As December settles into the workplace, law firm associates and their non-equity partner peers are scrambling to confirm that they’ll meet their billable hour targets for the year. And partners are scrambling to get all of their outstanding receivables paid up by the end of the month. After all, the more money they can get into the firm’s accounts by year’s end, the better their bonuses will be in the spring. All of the lawyers are hoping that they’ll get an end of year break with little work to do over the holiday week. ‘Tis the season for hope.

And of course, associates are anxiously awaiting news — any news — about firms’ bonuses. How did lawyers ever manage in the dark days without ATL’s Bonus Watch?

For the in-house lawyer, December is also a month like none other….

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