Susan Moon

Job stress is a big deal. It’s not just that it makes you feel constantly anxious and irritable and more likely to get involved in shouting matches — and that’s just with your alarm clock. Occupational stress impacts our overall well-being. For example, it increases marital strife and has also been more strongly associated with health issues than financial or family problems.

One way to avoid job stress is to avoid having a job. I know this may sound like a tempting alternative, but I’ve tried this at one point and found that it wasn’t an ideal option. Because when not working means that your hubby nags you every other minute to get your butt off the couch and clean off the month-old Cheetos stuck between your teeth, it’s still pretty stressful.

So assuming we’re forced to follow the conventional, non-lazy route, which is the better option from a stress perspective — working in-house or at a law firm? Well, it depends. Sorry, I know that it’s one of those typical, boring, hedgy responses that lawyers like to give every time they’re confronted with a question, but there really isn’t a more appropriate response….

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So let’s assume you know the basics about switching over to become in-house counsel — you don’t bill hours, you’re more of a “business” lawyer, and you become part of a cost center. Instead of having partners who don’t care about you, you’ll have an actual boss who’s supposed to care about you at least a little bit or she’ll look bad. Salaries are probably lower, but it’s all good because you’ve been told that your improved work-life balance will make up for it.

What else is there that you should know before making the move? Well, plenty. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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Ever since I wrote on ATL about going in-house through the compliance route, I’ve been getting emails with questions — almost every month and often several times a month. It seems that everyone and their sister is interested in compliance, from law school grubs to seasoned attorneys. I even get emails about this from people who aren’t in law at all. It almost makes me wonder whether I should be checking out some of those job posts myself!

And why not? According to Reuters, it’s Wall Street’s “hot trade.” And the Wall Street Journal considers whether compliance is a “dream career.” Salaries have been rising and demand for compliance professionals is high and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. So it’s no wonder that inquiring minds want to know. Many inquiring minds.

A lot of the questions I’ve been getting are pretty similar. And while I understand that sometimes one needs to respond to the same questions over and over and over and over again (those of you who are parents can sympathize), I figured it would be a much better use of my time more efficient situation for everyone to instead address some of those commonly asked questions in a blog post.

And for good measure, I reached out to a couple of compliance recruiters to get their expertise. So here goes…

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One of the most common soft skills issues that comes up in every environment, whether work, home, or play, is how people deal with others’ negative perceptions or criticisms of them.

When we receive negative feedback from others, most of us go autopilot into some level of defensiveness. We’ll tend to find excuses for our behavior (“I was really overworked at that time,” “I was preoccupied by personal issues,” “That wasn’t my intent,” etc.). Or we’ll blame the other person (“She wasn’t paying attention,” “He’s always so closed-minded,” “She doesn’t get the big picture,” etc.).

Even if any of the explanations above are true, there are other ways of responding to criticism and negative feedback that can be lot more helpful….

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Hello loyal ATL readers. I’m back! I’ve been on somewhat of a forced vacation during this past year. That is, of course, if by “forced vacation” we mean “involved in a tragic scenario where I barely made it out alive.” To put it lightly.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was cruising on the highway on a clear Sunday morning. I took a bite of my breakfast sandwich and started to place it down onto the area between the front car seats that’s intended to hold things. But as my hand descended, I felt the sandwich start to come out of the wrapper. I looked down and fumbled around with the thing to prevent it from becoming a big freaking mess all over the car. It was literally just a few seconds and I didn’t even realize that I was no longer looking out the front windshield.

The car drifted toward the right and I jolted when the front right corner of my car hit the highway barrier. My first thought was, “Geez, I’m not gonna be able to hide that one from Michael.” The car then careened over toward the left side. I tried frantically to steer it in the opposite direction, but it had no impact on the leftward course of the car. It crashed mightily into the cement median and came to a dead stop.

Needless to say, it was not a good morning. I mean, I only had one bite of my sandwich and I did have a big mess all over the car…

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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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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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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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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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