Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I'm Bored!

As a mom, one thing gets on my nerves more than anything each summer - the inevitable "I'm bored" statement coming from a kid who has every toy imaginable and a huge yard to play in.  But what I dread even more is the "I'm bored" attitude from an employee.

At best it means I have a disengaged, dispassionate employee with horrendous productivity.  At worst, it means I'm wasting a talented resource who will soon leave me and be difficult to replace.  This is not unique to lawyers, but I've found that it happens more often in the legal team due to the potential isolation of the department because of the nature of our work and the structure of the company.  Unless you're engaged in senior management, in house lawyers don't do a lot of strategy work.  Which means that they're not working on the exciting stuff until after it's floated around the company for awhile.  Junior attorneys and remote/distance attorneys also get left out of collaborative projects that leave them handling routine matters over and over again.  You can only negotiate that indemnity language so many ways before it becomes something you can do in your sleep.

And that's when they start to sleep on the job (figuratively, I hope).  Most employees will give you signs that they're bored.  Good ones will ask for more work, not so good ones will ask for more time off.  Both can poison the productivity of the team - if for no other reason than misery loves company.  Even a bored superstar can't help but put off a vibe of frustration that's highly contagious.  And the superstar can fairly easily find another job.  They may wait it out a bit in hopes of things getting better, maybe out of a sense of loyalty to you or the company.  But eventually they'll leave and all those routine matters land back in your lap.  A less motivated employee may take advantage of the situation and just turn in crap work for awhile until you have to replace them.  And again you've got those routine matters back in your lap, and we know you're not bored.

So what's a manager to do?  Keep an eye out for the signs of boredom - hurried work, procrastination from otherwise productive team members, complaining about everything, etc.  Give opportunities to vary work load within competencies.  So you have one employment lawyer, let her work on some consultant contracts.  Or let your patent guy work on a licensing deal.  Get your employees engaged early on in the life-cycle of the "cool stuff".  Don't outsource all the deal work for that acquisition.  Let the attorney that will draft the terms of use for that new product in on some of the development meetings.  Give them something to shake up the routine.  And take the pulse of the department periodically.  Fully engaged employees will put up with more grunt work because they see the big picture and their place in it.  Disengaged employees see only their day to day and it affects their attitude, which in turn affects the attitude of those around them.  Know who your complainers are and keep them in check.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do for the bored employees.  We have a job to do and sometimes that has to be enough.  If it's not, help them move on with dignity and try to replace them with someone whose idea of gratifying work fits within the definition of the work they'll actually be doing.  If that doesn't work, do what I do to my kids - tell them to come up with their own solution and that you'll help them implement it if possible...or go outside and play. (depending on how many times I've heard the whine that day.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Answer the Call

I seem to be spending a lot of time networking these days.  Partly because it's a bit slow at work so I have time to devote to it, partly because I recently joined the board of the Austin Chapter of Association of Corporate Counsel, and partly because I've finally realized that you need to answer the call when someone reaches out to you. As in house counsel, we can get tunnel vision with the day to day of the job.  There is always one more contract to review, one more email to answer and not enough time to get it all done and still have some semblance of a family life.  So we tend to ignore the relatively easy side of professional development - answering the call when someone reaches out to connect with you.

I've had several recruiters reach out to me in the last 3 months.  Not only to attempt to recruit me to a new position, but also to see if they can be of service for my team or if I know anyone that is a fit for the role they're trying to fill.  Even on days when I'm overworked, over-stressed and REALLY don't feel like fielding a sales call, I answer the call.  At worst, I have a lovely conversation with someone who may have my next job even if it's not the one they're pitching now (and maybe make a new friend).  At best, I can connect and help them find the right person.  Which means that both the recruiter and the attorney/professional that I've connected them with will think of me the next time a position opens up.

Same thing applies when a local attorney looking for advice on the in house scene reaches out.  I may not be in the position to hire them now, or even give them sage advice on how to reach the next step.  But sometimes all they need is an ear to bounce ideas off or some insight into an area or a company that they hadn't considered before.  I remember being that newbie and needing advice.  I also remember very clearly the people who were too busy and those who took time to have coffee, lunch, happy hour or a 15 minute phone call.  Sometimes I'm asked about who would be a good fit for a great position - guess who I recommend.

And believe it or not, this applies to non-legal people too.  When the membership chair for that non-profit calls, the controller for that software company you met while at that tech focused happy hour, the salesperson for the contract management software you used to use but have replaced or even the cousin of that work colleague that wants to get into working with Autistic kids reaches out - answer.  Yes, you'll have to learn the artful skill of saying no to the sales pitches.  But, you may need that software in the future or may have a common interest with the non-profit.  You never know how they may add value to your life (professionally or otherwise) and it really doesn't take much to add a small bit of value to theirs.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Update to How My Autistic Son Made Me a Better Lawyer

April 2 is International Autism Awareness day.  I've made no secret of how Autism has effected me personally and professionally.  But like everything else in life, living with an Autistic son evolves over time. And while the lessons I first wrote about here are still applicable, I'm continuing to learn from him on a daily basis.  So in honor of Autism Awareness day and of LG, here are the new ways my autistic son is making me a better lawyer.

1.  Acceptance trumps Awareness.  The autism community in general struggles with this one.  With the 2014 stats of 1 in 68 kids being diagnosed (1 in 50 boys), there are a lot of organizations focused on raising the awareness of this disorder.  However, being aware of something and accepting it are two different things.  Understanding how or why something 'is' is just the first step.  Determining what to do next is where the real value is added.  For the autistic community, it is a movement away from viewing autism as a childhood disease to the fact that many adults with autism continue to need accommodation well into adulthood, but can otherwise be contributing members of society.  For an in house lawyer, it means being aware of budget, market or other considerations isn't enough.  We have to accept that reality and be creative in ways of achieving the goals of the business within those confines.

2.  Reaction or lack thereof does not equal lack of understanding.  As my son grows, his communication skills are also evolving.  His receptive communication is much more developed than his expressive communication - which means he understands a lot more than he's able to communicate back.  So there are times when I tell him something and he doesn't respond or react.  It's tough to know whether he actually heard and understood me and just isn't equipped to respond or whether he doesn't actually understand.  As he develops further, it's become clearer that he understands a lot more than most give him credit for, but he often doesn't react as expected. And I've come to learn that this is not a uniquely autistic trait.  There are some business people who don't always react as expected to news of advice.  As in house counsel, we need to manage the interaction and not just the conversation.  Look for the non-verbal clues of understanding and acceptance or rejection.

3. The details matter even when you think they don't.  A lot of autistics focus on details of things that are very important to you.  My son corrected the presenter at a dinosaur show when he used the old name for a particular dinosaur.  He could tell by the toe claw which dinosaur it was.  I, of course, couldn't tell the difference and didn't even notice the claws were different.  But in certain situations the details don't seem like they're a big deal but can really blow up.  By way of example, a friend drafted an executive summary on a major project she had worked for weeks on.  Her boss glossed the summary before submitting it to the exec team and one change he made was to rearrange the 'author names' to list his before hers.  In his mind, it was a report from the legal department and he was their contact.  He wanted them to address further questions and issues to him rather than her so she could move on to the next project.  However, she felt slighted and like her work wasn't respected.  She started looking for another job that day.  Sometimes it seems like those details aren't very important but they are.  It pays to pay attention.

Three new things I may have missed without my 1 in 68.  What have you learned if you from yours?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Knowing what you don't know

I'm often asked what the biggest difference between in house and outside counsel is from the practicing attorney's point of view.  In honesty, I don't have a great answer since my only experience at a firm was doing summer internships during my 1L summer.  What I do know is how it looks to me now - having more than a decade of in house practice under my belt, sometimes as a client to my outside counsel colleagues.

The biggest difference isn't the billable hour, the work/life balance or even the amount of time spent on client development.  The biggest difference is in the way we think.  Law firm lawyers think like lawyers, exclusively.  They issue spot and will list every conceivable outcome.  They will agonize over the risks of a sloppily written indemnification clause and will argue for days over the psychology of selecting a venue. And they are very, very good at knowing what they don't know and seeking help when they reach that point.

On the other hand, in house lawyers think like an amalgam of lawyer and business person.  We don't have time to analyze every little issue, just the big ones.  We don't have the luxury of caring about the .01% chance that venue will come into play, because if we get there it's already done irreparable harm to our business. We make decisions based on half the information all the time, and often go with our gut when it would take too long to shepardize the latest case law on how arbitration clauses are being interpreted by the courts in various jurisdictions. This is what I call practicing law at the speed of business. If we don't get a 'good enough' answer now, they won't wait around to ask us for our perfect answer next time.  So we speed through and take calculated risks (after fully disclosing and getting buy in on the risk profile with the company leaders).  And we often suck at knowing what we don't know.

This is especially true for those of us who practice in small or solo legal teams that have to support every aspect of the business, often on a shoestring budget.  And it makes our relationships with law firms so much more valuable.  By being our sounding board on new issues when they arise, a law firm lawyer can position themselves as our partner in this journey and not just the legal expert in a particular area. By tactifully pointing out general areas that need to be considered - and not the laundry list of every single potential issue no matter how minimal - a firm lawyer can gain a reputation as being reasonable and practical.  Which is great if you want me to send you business on those issues I need outside help on, and even better if you ever want me to recommend you for that in house opening that someone told me about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top 5 Must Do's For The First In House Counsel

I've done the first in house - first GC thing a couple of times now, and each time I do I learn something different.  But a few lessons have remained constant through every industry, role and political environment. I originally picked up these tidbits of gold from mentors and colleagues who had been where I was and had turned their solo departments into respected legal teams of some very respected companies.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn from them (and smart enough to actually listen!).

A couple of weeks ago I was having a similar conversation, only I was on the other end of it - giving the advice.  And while I thought about all of the crazy things I've discovered being in house at start ups and tech companies, the listens learned from that first gig and those first mentors seemed more important.  So I'll share the top 5 things for the first in house/GC to do:

1.  If possible, only do it once.  We all know that a lot of the practice of law is repetition.  We negotiate the same clauses in the same agreements with different parties.  Which is great when you're a firm lawyer because billables. But in house repetition can kill you.  You don't have time to recreate the wheel every time some one needs a contract.  Create templates and processes that reduce the amount of time you have to spend on something - eliminate all unnecessary repetition.  You'll be so happy you did as you discover the 1000 other things you should be doing with your time that add a lot more value (and visibility) to your role.

2.  If it doesn't take a lawyer, don't do it.  It's hard, especially in a start up - but there are some things that you are simply over paid to do.  This seems to be more of an issue for women lawyers, but it often falls to the first in house person because they are new and their roles are often undefined.  But secretary of the board doesn't mean you get coffee for everyone.  Nor does being the most efficient mean that you have to coordinate all meetings.  You don't need to sit in on every meeting - just ones where you actually add value or get value.  And just because your HR person or team lead doesn't want to have a difficult conversation with the employee about their hygiene doesn't mean that you have to do it for them.

3.  Know the business better than anyone else.  In order to understand the risks you have to mitigate or advise on this strategy or that, you have to understand the business.  Get to know how your product and services work on an intimate level.  Understand where the money comes from.  You don't have to be able to code, but you should be able to explain how it works generally.  One of the most irritating things to a business person (and one thing that will get you uninvited to many a meeting) is not understanding the role of the company in the ecosystem.  Know your competitors, know your product, know your company.  Get in deep even when there are no legal issues at play.  Once you understand that, you'll be a million times more productive in all the rest of your job.

4. Technology is your friend.  Ten years ago the best technology we had to help our in house practice was word processing and maybe, if you were really ahead of the game, Sharepoint.  Now, there are a ton of technical tools that can streamline processes and add automated controls so that you don't have to personally be involved in every thing that the legal department does.  You may spend a little upfront, but what you spend in development costs is saved in personnel and overhead.  Just like the tools for every other department, some of these can be homegrown adaptations of existing platforms or completely custom tools built in house.  Others can be bought off the shelf or modified by a vendor. There is literally something out there for every need (you may not be able to afford it, but it's there!)  And it's not hard to show the ROI on a contracts management system when you can show a reduction in transaction times that leads to revenue faster, or a docketing system that allows you to renew important IP in a timely and cost efficient manner without hiring a specialist just to perform that duty.

5.  Act like you belong there.  New to in house and the first in house counsel will face a similar issue of not quite knowing where you fit in.  Your title may put you at an exec level or a mid level manager.  Your role puts you in at least a somewhat strategic position like it or not.  So act like you belong at the table on day one.  Don't be cocky - just try to learn at first.  But you should make your rounds with every executive in the company.  Introduce yourself and ask how you can  make their jobs easier.  Ask what time you should be there for that meeting, not whether you should come. And, it doesn't hurt to make the VP of Sales come to your office for the meeting once in awhile.  Remember, you teach people how to treat you.  Act like their peer and they'll treat you like that.  Act subservient and you'll always be treated that way.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Going 80 in the slow lane

It was one of those mornings.  It feels like it's been a week of one of those mornings.  Stayed up too late, so getting up early was difficult.  For the kids as well; they were in no mood to brave the cold for school.  So we're all running just a bit late.  I jump on the toll road because it's faster.  As I merge on the highway I notice that the cars are flying by me like I'm sitting still, one truck must have been doing at least 100 mph. I think I must be idling, but when I look down at the speedometer I'm doing 80!  

Ever feel like you're running a top speed and still not getting anywhere?  Like no matter how hard you try or how fast you go, you're getting passed up left and right and there's no hope of catching up? That's sort of what it feels like your first year in house (or in a new in house position).  I call it the speed of business.

Everyone else in the office moves at top speed at all times.  And they don't wait for you to catch up. If you're not clear on the new technology they plan on releasing in the next sprint, too bad.  The dev works been done, the marketing team has already placed the buy orders for the ad space and the finance team has already baked the expected revenue into the quarterly projections that will be disclosed to the board in next weeks meeting.

They can do that because business works best in the grey - when we're not 100% sure the tech is actually going to work as described, or the marketing will be innovative enough to grab attention but not offend. Business drives at 100 mph 24 hours a day all around the globe.  But for legal peeps, we don't speed very well.  We like to know all the facts, analyze and then make a judgment call.  Then we go through plan our action prior to taking it.  And this ensures that we don't ever get a ticket for going 100 mph in a 65 zone.  But it also ensures your company that a competitor will get there faster. So then you find all your coworkers going around you because you're too slow.

The trick is to hit the ground running, start the day at 65 and expect to speed up.  But lay the groundwork so your top speeders have to slow down.  Put into to place the process and procedures that weed out the known speed traps, and explain that's what your doing.  Find the back roads, alternative routes or even toll lanes where the speed limit jumps so you can get a jump on the competition who get caught in the speed traps or refuse to speed.  And give enough wiggle room so that everyone can go 5 to 10 miles over the posted limit when necessary.  You may find yourself doing 80 in the slow lane for awhile, but eventually traffic flows catch up and that guy doing 100 has to slam his breaks or wreck his truck while you pass him by going with the flow because you've taken stock and know where the next window of opportunity is likely to pop up.      

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 - A Year of Self Discovery.

About a year and half ago, I went through a bit of an identity crisis.  I had what should have been the perfect job, but was unhappy professionally.  For the first time in six years I wasn't pregnant or nursing but somehow still felt like my body wasn't my own.  After a lifetime of struggling with my weight I finally figured it out and lost a ton - going from a size 18 to a size 4.  Yet I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin.  I had no idea who or what I was anymore.  So I left my job and spent the summer with the boys.  I tried several different styles, read a bunch of self help books and generally tried to analyze myself into happiness.  It didn't work.  The only think I learned during that time was that I am not a great 'stay at home' mom - I need work to be self fulfilled.

So I went back to work, disappointed in myself and still not knowing exactly what my place in life should be.  Now, a little over a year later, I'm looking back at 2014 and realize that this is the year that I found myself.  I finally found my work style and now know why I was so miserable before and what I need to do professionally to be happy.  I've discovered that although I miss the closeness I had with my infant sons, they are so much more fun now that their personalities are emerging.  And I've found my own style and feel comfortable in my new skin - stretch marks, wrinkles and all.

The funny thing is, I didn't find any of this in books or mommy groups.  I found no answers while staring in the mirror and trying to analyze every aspect of my misery.  I found the answers by jumping into life head on.  When things didn't feel right I changed them.  I didn't analyze what the next step should be, I just took it.  If it wasn't right, I took another.  Then another.  And somehow, I ended up here.  At the end of 2014 and very excited about what 2015 will bring.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Dear Santa - my annual letter on behalf of in house counsel everywhere

Since my letter last year went over so well - even got a few things on my list! - I thought I'd try my luck again this year.  So here goes:




Dear Santa,

Thanks again for all the goodies you brought last year.  I love the the contract management system (SringCM rocks!, Thanks to Dinesh for making my crazy Visio workflows a reality.)  I also appreciate the sales people who are trying their best to get deals in early so I'm not rushing around like a crazy person on New Year's Eve attempting to get that contract signed.  I'm still waiting on the new world order where my lack of testosterone doesn't automatically mean I also lack the same pay.  Until then, I love this video and will proudly wear my own label.

For this year, I'd love to have law firm lawyers (and maybe a few family members) actually understand what it is I do all day.  At my reunion I was inundated with questions about how this or that works.  I was amazed to see how many very smart people that I went to school with think that I don't actually do any real work, and I only work 30 hours a week.  Not sure where they get their ideas about in house counsel responsibilities - but could you bring them a clue for Christmas?

I also want a  few months (because I know a year is too much to ask), where laws that won't ever pass aren't in the daily news.  So I don't have to spend an hour each day explaining it and why it doesn't matter to us to every employee who watches CNN or Fox News.

While we're talking about getting a break, how about a break from the sales people trying to sell me legal services/tech at the end of the year.  I get it, it's their end of quarter and they need to make their numbers. But guess what, it's my end of quarter/year, and my sales guys need me to focus on their stuff right now.  Plus, I'm out of budget for the year anyway.  If they must, tell them to hit me up in January when everything else is a bit slow.  But I'll give a hint - I haven't yet bought anything from a cold call.

And just 'cause it's Christmas - is there anything you can do about the making Christmas Calories really not count?


Thank you again for last year's gifts.  I promise to be Good for 2015 (as long as I get to define Good!).

Sincerely,
Your in house lawyers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Post - where I really do give Thanks!

As the holidays approach I can't help but start mentally conducting a year in review.  It seems this year marked the rise of a new type of feminism.  Although in full disclosure, it may have always been there, and I only noticed it this year.  Maybe I've finally come to a point in my career/life where I'm not so inwardly focused that I can actually see what's happening around me on a macro level.  From the push for more Women in Tech to Emma Watson's He for She speech, even Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella saying that women shouldn't ask for raises has pushed the issue to the forefront - at least for me.  And as I see more women trying to make a difference, I'm struck by how lucky I am to have had so many strong women support me.  So, this year's Thanksgiving post is dedicated to thanking them.

It may have been my uncle who pushed me to dream big and who taught me to learn from every experience, but it was my aunt Diana Kaye that instilled a strong work ethic and a belief that I don't need to wait for someone to do it for me.  It's because of her that I know the value of hard work, even when no one else is watching.  So for that, Thank You Kaye-Kaye.

I've also been blessed by an awesome group of women, without whom I would have never made it through Professor Rose's contracts class, much less the rest of law school.  When the socially isolating aspects of law school started to get me down, one of my girls was always there to pick me up and get my head out of the rank related neurosis.  And for that I owe a big thanks to Stephanie Vinca-Sandell and Kari Jill Granville-Minton!

During my last year in law school, I interned at a then little known company named GoDaddy.  I worked for the toughest New Yorker with the biggest heart you'd ever met.  She's also one of the smartest people I've met.    She taught me more about how to work a room to get what you want while keeping your integrity and sincerity than I knew what to do with at the time.  She also taught me the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor is a great person to have on your side, she will guide you, advise you and be a sounding board when you most need it.  A sponsor will go to bat for you.  Will risk their own reputation to give you chances you wouldn't otherwise have had.  Thanks to Ms. Nima Kelly for showing me just how important both mentors and sponsors are.

Because of Nima, I got the amazing opportunity to work for a women who epitomizes the word Mentor.  Christine Jones took every opportunity to challenge me and help me grow, both professionally and as an individual.  She taught me how to 'think like a lawyer' back when I didn't understand what that phrase meant.  I still go to her for advice on everything from making my next career move to what makes the most sense in support of my family.  And she always makes time for me.  Even though she's since moved on to bigger and better things, she answers the phone when I call and returns my emails the same day.  I wouldn't be who I am today without CJ.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And I wouldn't have met a lady who touched my life so profoundly, I may not have become a mom without her influence.  When Keena Willis came to work for CJ, she was a friendly co-worker.  But over the years we worked together she became family.  She was sister to me in a way that I had never connected to my own sisters.  Her strength as a single mom was an inspiration to me.  Her connection with her family and those of us who became family was awesome in the true definition of that word.  Although we've grown apart due to distance and other obligations, I know without a doubt that I could pick up the phone and she would be there for me instantly - because that's what family does. She doesn't know that the nights after I first found out I was pregnant I thought of her and knowing what family could look like comforted me - even though I was hundreds of miles away from my own.  Thank you Keena - you rock!

Speaking of family, my own sister Bonnie Bailey continues to inspire me with her drive to improve herself everyday.  After being knocked down time and again, she continues to get back up.  Each and every time stronger than before.  She reminds me that it's never to late to start again and no dream is too big.  She'll be graduating from college the same year her son graduates from high school.  And she's doing it as a scholar!  How she manages it all is still a mystery, and she still has time to listen to me vent about everything from diapers to egos.

Since moving to Austin, I've had so many friends, co-workers and mentors that I could go on for hours about each.  But it's getting late and I need a glass of wine - so I want to thank Sarah Tuchler, Tina Letcher, Connie Ruthven, Nancy Ebe, Amy Fitzgerald, Crystal Hill, Ann Benolken, Angela Vogeli and Leslie Thorne for showing me how powerful having a network of strong professional women can be, and how nice it is to have friends in a new home town!

I'm off to my wine - but don't be shy, who are you Thankful for this year?

Friday, October 31, 2014

In House Nightmares

I've not yet met a person who has never had a nightmare.  I've dreamt of aliens still my baby (while I was still pregnant with him) and a multitude of other equal crazy but frightening scenarios.  My boys wake up from nightmares induced from every scary movie they're not supposed to watch but that Daddy let them watch anyway.  And most lawyers I know have the occasional nightmare about never getting out of the student loan debt - okay, maybe that last one occurs more often when awake than asleep.  Point being we all have fears that manifest in our subconscious and affect our sleep.

In honor of Halloween, I'm going to answer a question often asked of general counsel - what keeps you up at night? Here are my top 3:

1.  An intense negotiation or high stakes deal will almost always result in the lack of sleep - even though it also results in me being extremely exhausted by the long hours and emotional roller coaster every one of these seems to bring.  When I do finally fall asleep I'll dream of the provision we're fighting over or the wording of that illusive clause.  It's infuriating when even sleep one give you a break.

2.  Compliance. Just that one word is enough to keep me up in to the wee hours.  The fact is that no matter how vigilant we are, there will always be some little thing that we didn't do.  I'm okay with that.  We do our best and we know what risk we take. What keeps me awake is the thought of what we don't know.  What authoritative body is going to claim jurisdiction next?  What is my IT team doing (or not doing) that I don't know about?  What are my sales people out there saying? And to whom?  Everything that's on my radar is fully assessed and managed within the best ability of my team.  But what about what's flying under my radar?  That's the stuff of nightmares.

3.  Office politics suck even when you love the people and the work.  But I've yet to work at any type of company in any capacity where office politics aren't important for your career and success at that employer.  Which means that sometimes who said what to whom will stick with you long after the work day ends.  And sometimes those concerns seep into your subconscious and your dreams, like the one time where my HR Director was chasing me around the office trying to give me the ax - literally.  Glad we sorted that one out.

Ok, now the top 3 (work related) things that keep me up at night.  What's seeped into your nightmares?