Moonlighting

I thought it might be fun to try something different for this week’s post. A lot of people post top ten lists to give some semblance of organization to an otherwise random set of ideas, so I thought, “Well heck, we, too, can play at that game!” Thus, a top ten list was conceived for things that make us think, “Toto, we’re not in Biglaw anymore.”

That being said, You Know You Work In-House If….

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In last week’s installment of Moonlighting, we looked into the challenges of just planning a global meeting. This post will continue the theme by examining particular practical issues that arise during global meetings.

The first few minutes of most meetings are passed waiting for people to join, whether in person or on a call. Those who’ve joined early on typically engage in casual social banter to avoid the awkward silence. But on a global call, you need to be careful as nothing says “you’re not an American company” like banter that leads with, “Say, how ‘bout those Knicks?”

Then what should you talk about — world events? Perhaps, assuming you can talk about them without offending anyone (avoid discussing the madness in Western Europe). Safer, but admittedly boring, topics are weather and vacations. And of course, be wary throughout the call of using American business jargon like “get our ducks in a row,” “circle back,” etc. These are best accompanied by a clear explanation of what the idioms mean: “As we say in America, let’s circle back when we have all our ducks in a row. This just means that we’ll give each other a heads up when we’ve got our house in order.” Wait… not that….

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Companies are doing more business internationally and dragging their lawyers along with them. As you can imagine, doing international work has obvious challenges — foreign law, culture and language, time zone issues, cardboard that airlines call “food,” etc. These next couple of Moonlighting posts are going to delve into some of the nitty gritty of practicing in a global arena by examining one very basic, but essential, part of the in-house practice that I’ve discussed before — a meeting.

But first, a clarification of terms. People often use the terms “international” and “global” interchangeably. However, in-house lawyers who practice in these areas may disagree. Assuming the terms are used by Americans, an “international” U.S. business refers to a business that is headquartered in the United States and operates individual businesses in other countries that focus on the market in each of those countries. In this structure, each business in each country focuses on its own business and does not often coordinate with the others — communicating primarily with the U.S. headquarters in a hub and spoke kind of structure.

On the other hand, a “global” U.S. business is one that’s headquartered in the United States and builds businesses in other countries that focus on how the market in those countries could support cross-border business growth. In the global model, businesses in the other countries often work directly with each other. For the sake of simplicity though, I’ll use the term “global” for the rest of this post to refer to both international and global work. Now that you’re sufficiently confused, we can move on….

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Generally, when in-house lawyers transition from a law firm to a company, the amount they work decreases, with some exceptions. The particular number of hours depends upon the company and the industry, but it’s usually about 9-5 or 9-6, and increases as you gain seniority. (Unless you come from money and you’re “employed” in the family business, in which case you haven’t worked a day in your life, and never will.)

Often flexible arrangements are available, such as shifting working hours to 7-4 or 10-6, or working from home one or more days a week. These flex-time arrangements are particularly useful to lawyers who have many other obligations outside of work, such as learning new pole-dancing routines.

What about facetime — do in-house lawyers deal with facetime issues? By “facetime,” I mean simply the amount of time spent in the office, whether that time is used to do work or not. In-house lawyers certainly do encounter facetime issues — let’s face it, all lawyers do. (Get it…?)

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You’ve probably heard the same advice as I have about participating in meetings — speak up at least once during every meeting. Otherwise, people will wonder why you’re even there — are you engaged in the discussion? Do you even understand what’s going on? Are you nursing a hangover again? What’s the deal?

Now, some of you have absolutely no problem speaking up at meetings. In fact, maybe you’re a little too “good” at it. This post isn’t for you. For those of you who don’t realize you babble on too much in meetings, there will be a different post dedicated to the likes of you, entitled: “When Everyone in the Room Has Ceased Making Eye Contact with You, It’s Time to Shut Up.”

Others of you are shy about speaking up in larger groups, especially in front of a lot of senior people. You feel pressured to come up with something brilliant, and often end up not saying anything at all because you don’t think your ideas are worthy of public utterance. Or sometimes, you really can’t seem to think of anything to contribute….

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Why can’t people admit it when they’ve made mistakes? I think it’s because they focus on the potential negative consequences and not enough on the benefits that admitting mistakes can have on their careers. It’s irritating when people can’t admit that they’re wrong in any situation, but it seems most annoying when it happens in the work environment.

Now, I’m not talking about when there’s an actual disagreement or when you genuinely don’t realize that you’ve made a mistake. Or when you’ve intentionally done something to screw someone else over. I’m referring to the situation where you know you’ve messed up and you won’t ‘fess up.

Instead, this is what happens…

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In the last installment of Moonlighting, we examined the importance of understanding the big picture at work. This week, we’ll consider one method of finding out more about the big picture: asking questions. Not the dumb ones. The good ones. So what are some good questions that can help us to see the bigger picture?

I solicited input from several general counsels, assistant GCs, etc., in different industries and here’s what they came up with. I know, I was surprised they got back to me too. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with the teeny white lie I told them — that they would be compensated for their answers with untold riches and fame — it’s a mystery. But here is what they said…

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Lawyers are great at thinking small — small picture, that is. We’re awesome at details, however painstakingly minor. We sport the “grammar police” badge proudly, even though we know that it’s the dorkiest one out there (wait, except for the “I memorized all of the two-letter words in Scrabble” badge — that one’s slightly dorkier). We find nit-picky, meaningless, hypothetical debates to be “intellectually stimulating,” while the rest of the world sees them as a complete and utter waste of time. And it’s all good. Details are essential to the practice of law. But so is seeing the big picture.

A law firm associate friend once represented a bank on a loan in which the borrower later ended up missing a payment date. Upon learning of the missed payment, he promptly drafted a default notice. When he presented the default notice to the law firm partner, the partner’s reaction was, “Whoa, Nelly… hold on there — no way are we sending any default notice.”

The associate was thinking small picture — how dare the borrower miss a payment to his client! In full gunner mode, he proceeded to take steps to ensure that the bank was paid the monies due (and, by the way, now at a default interest rate — haha!). He was only trying to zealously represent his client, right? Right? The partner, on the other hand, was thinking big picture….

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You may be one of those people who realized early on that law firm partnership is not for you. For me, this was the case even before I started law school. Law was going to be a second career for me, and by the day of my first 1L class, I already had two small children vying for my attention. Surprisingly, having small kids while in law school full time was not easy. You really need to be engaged in your kids’ interests, which can be hard when you’re also trying to dodge Socratic bullets for the first time. There was one semester when it literally took me an entire week to defeat the Elite Four in Pokémon Yellow. Tough times, tough times.

I later went into Biglaw with the understanding that the experience would look good on my résumé, and that I would get what people refer to as “great training.” (And, of course, the money was nothing to complain about, either.) And I actually did enjoy the work. But you can’t work Biglaw hours and expect to just breeze through all of the Pokémon versions — Gold, Ruby, Platinum, Black, etc. — there are so many of them! It’s just not possible, and I will challenge anyone who says it is.

So once you’ve decided that the in-house life is the life for you (or that there’s no way in hell they’ll make someone who’s so obsessed with kids’ games partner), when’s the best time to make the move? Well, it depends….

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In-house promotions are tricky. There are so many different kinds of companies, and so many things that can go wrong when you’re looking for a promotion. Some companies are upfront about the process: they’ll inform you if you’re being considered, let you know which committees need to approve, etc. Others are kind of like, “Uh, promotion, what’s that?,” and then they’ll just drop one on you when you least expect it, and run away (not that you’d complain about it).

Here are a couple of the obvious considerations that the powers-that-be will take into account when deciding whether you are worthy of attainment of the next level:

1. Do you do good work (i.e., do you have good legal/technical skills)?

2. Do you have good soft skills? Remember, from my last couple of posts — this covers everything from effective communication, to leadership, to being tasked with convincing your peers that going as breakdancing elves to the holiday party can show the rest of the company that Legal can be fun, too! Soft skills make or break a lot of promotion opportunities, and your superiors are looking for them. For example, one very senior in-house attorney mentioned that having courage of your convictions — to speak up (in an appropriate manner and in the appropriate venue) when you think a strategy is flawed, or when you think you have a better idea — is what distinguishes a leader from the rest of the pack.

Alright, so let’s say that you have #1 and #2 covered. And you’ve made it absolutely clear that you want a promotion (and “I was wondering if, uh, you noticed what a good job I did on that contract the other day” doesn’t count). You should start evaluating color schemes for that larger office you’ve been eyeing, right? Well, don’t switch your name plate over just yet. As far as your company’s concerned, “yes” answers to the above questions are great, but they just mean you’re performing as expected for your level. Here are some of the less obvious questions that they’ll also be thinking about….

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