Monday, December 10, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

As you know, I love the holidays.  One of my favorite aspects is the sharing of things that are important to us.  On a personal level, there is nothing that brings people closer than sharing their traditions and their hopes for the new year with one another.   On a professional level, this is a great time of year to pick up tips and tricks from colleagues who may be more willing to share now than when they're buried with work in the Spring.  So, while I'm not going to turn this blog into a sappy 'after school special', I do want to share a few of my favorite things with my fellow in house brethren.   

One of the things about being in house is the lack of resources.  You're already costing the company, so getting tools to be more efficient at your job may be a luxury if the price tag is too high.  This is true regardless of whether you're in a small department or a large one, although the cost benefit analysis will be slightly different when deciding which tools to get.  So for the value you get for the money spent here are a few of my favorite resources:

1.  Association of Corporate Counsel.  I can not stress enough how many great resources you get just by joining.  At a cost of a couple hundred dollars a year per attorney, you get access to form documents, policy papers, research, CLE's and a network of a 30,000 other in house attorneys who are generally willing to share what's worked for them.  If you get only one resource in the new year, this is the one to get!

2.  Cobblestone System's Contract Insight.  As a document management tool, this has a ton of features that makes managing work flow and central repository of documents manageable for a small team.  Warning, it's not pretty at all and there are features that would make my life even easier.   But, for the low cost you can't beat the functionality.  You can track start and end dates, assign approvals and other tasks, track versions, and control access on a personal/department/function level.

3.  Google.  Let's face it, almost everything you need to know you can find with a carefully crafted Google search.  While you do have to be wary of unknown sources, you can find a lot of general answers with the search engine.  You won't be finding specific case law, and I wouldn't cite it in a pleading - but if your HR team needs a quick answer for a payroll question Google can be a huge time saver.

4.  Twitter.  I don't have the time to keep up to date with every new legal headline or the technical ones that matter to my business.  Twitter has become a great aggregator for me.  If you pick the right people to follow, your feed becomes a stream of good information, often summarized succinctly with the best articles about the topic trending highest.  You can also see good conversations about any particular issue to gauge how the matter is playing out.  A few great follows:  @legalbrat, @lawyercatrin, and @BretTechLawyer will keep you updated on interesting EU/UK/international matters that may be missed with US-centric sources (not to mention the food porn!).  @ACCinhouse, @InHouse_Bern, @CorpCounsel and @Insidecounsel generally have headlines and commentary on legal matters affecting in house practice.  And @TechCrunch and @mashable are both generally good at promoting any interesting new tech updates, including legislation that will have an affect on tech.   You can even follow me on twitter, @TanyaAvila - although I rarely have anything interesting or informative to say.  I do however complain about the cold, my kids' germs and random stuff about Texas.

So there's my top 4.  Have any to add?  Share with us in the comments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holidays In House

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Christmas fanatic.  As soon as I'm done eating the turkey, the Christmas music comes on.  I spend all 3 1/2 days of the long Thanksgiving weekend decorating my house.  I have most of my Christmas shopping done by end of day Cyber Monday.  Hell, I have a walk in closet in my house dedicated to Christmas decor.  I'm a bit of a freak.  And that's totally okay, except when it comes to work.

Unless you work for a religious institution, you need to be as secular as possible on all holidays.  This is true even if you are not the employment lawyer.  One difference between practicing in house and practicing at a firm is the fact that you are working with a bunch of people who often don't get the nuance in different areas of law.  No matter how many lawyers you have in your department, you are all the "legal department".  And as such, you - along with human resources - need to put on a secular front at all times.  The last thing you need is for an employee who feels discriminated against feel uneasy about approaching you to report it because you've got a Navity scene in your office.  Or a wreath decorated with the Star of David.  Or anything that has a religious connotation.

What makes Christmas especially hard, beyond the fact that it already is everywhere, is the expectation of some people to participate in some sort of gift exchange with their coworkers and/or boss.  In many companies this is cross departmental fun, and not participating can damage your relationships with those who do.  There is no easy answer here.  I try to keep all of my celebrations involving work light hearted and secular.  I listen to holiday music in my office, but nothing religious.  I don't put up a tree, but I do put out a Santa bowl of treats.  I send Happy Holiday cards instead of Christmas cards.  I bake goodies or bring in candy treats for exchanges.  A few close "work" friends my participate in something more "Christmasy", but I do it off site and don't talk about it at work.  I also make sure that in January I do employment training where I stress non-discrimination and advertise widely that my door is always open.  

There's an understandable frustration with having to be "PC" all the time, and I will counsel other employees to not overdo the PC if it makes them uncomfortable as long as they're not pushing their views or beliefs on others in the work place.  That doesn't apply to legal, even us Christmas freaks.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Thanksgiving Post

Every year around this time I start badgering the kids in my family to give me their wish list so I have time to purchase, wrap and/or ship everything before Christmas.  My 5 year old happily obliged giving me a very long list (he loves Lego Hero Factory and wants every hero, especially Von Nebula - good luck finding that one Santa!)  He was also very helpful in giving me a list of what he thought that his low-verbal 3 year old and 1 1/2 year old brothers would want (anything Cars 2 and something to draw on).  It was all very helpful.  I then called my sister to get the list for my niece and nephew.  My niece is mature beyond her years and would like to start a perfume collection (she's so much like me, it's great!).  My nephew was more difficult.  He couldn't think of anything that he wanted.  In a fit of impatience, I threatened to give his present to an underprivileged kid instead.  To my surprise he thought that was a great idea and asked me if I really would.  In an instant, my faith in humanity restored (or at least, my faith in West Virginian teenagers).

It's not often that you talk with a teenager who is happy with everything he has and doesn't want more.  For that matter, it's not often you talk with a professional who is happy with everything and doesn't want more.  Given that this is the week of Thanksgiving in the US, I'm going to take this opportunity to channel my nephew and be grateful for what I have.  It's amazing how often even educated adults will ignore what's right in front of them while in pursuit of something else.  The grass is greener syndrome runs rampant in corporate America.  And while I hold no illusions that any employer cares more about you as an employee than they do about their bottom lines, even  in this recovering economy many of us are in good positions with good companies.

So this week I am thankful for truly enjoying the work I do.  Many lawyers graduate from law school with an expectation of what practice will be like only to be severely disappointed.  Luckily, I'm not one of them.  I actually enjoy most aspects of my job and love the fact that I'm continually learning and growing professionally and personally, and getting paid to do it! 

I'm thankful to have a good job with a good company that offers benefits that cover the therapies and treatments my son needs.  He's made so much progress since starting his therapies, he's so close to saying "Mommy". Of course "McQueen" is more important - he said that last night, my ego took a slight hit but that was drowned out by my excitement that he's saying any words without prompting.

I'm thankful for great mentors who have helped me both professionally and personally.  I don't know where I'd be with Christine Jones or Nancy Ebe.  These two ladies are among the wisest, most intelligent and most compassionate people in the world.  If you are lucky enough to meet them, know that they each do more to help others in a single week than you or I do in a year with nothing to gain personally.  They're also pretty fun to spend time with - just ask Christine about politics or Nancy about her chickens.

I'm thankful for my husband who has put his career on hold indefinitely so that someone can be there to take care of the kids and advocate for my 3 year old.  His professional sacrifice for the family is what makes it possible for me to follow my dreams and pursue success in the legal world. His patience with the kids (something he has in spades and that I lack too often), has resulted in 3 of the finest young men I've met.  I love seeing more and more of him in them each day.

I'm thankful for friends and family that accept that I work to much and spend the majority of my spare time with my kids.  Those friends that love me anyway and will catch a lunch or coffee during the week instead of happy hour, or will catch up on that one Saturday afternoon after months of not hearing from me.  These people enrich my life beyond anything that I deserve.

Lastly, I'm thankful for this blog and the outlet to speak out about what's on my mind.  I've met so many interesting people from around the globe just because I ramble on weekly about practicing law in house online. Who knew it could be so liberating - I've been rambling daily in private, so putting it online has been a very fun experiment.

Now you've got my list, what are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cocky or Confident?

My first "real" job interview after high school was for a small privately held medical supply company doing data entry.  The job description didn't sound very hard and I was pretty confident that I could do the job well.  I got the job, and a month after I started my boss told me that he almost didn't hire me.  He wasn't sure from my interview whether I was really confident in my abilities or just cocky.  If it wasn't for a reference from a friend of his, he would have hired someone else.  Ever since then I've been worried about sounding too cocky and have often undermined myself by sounding like I lack confidence in my abilities.

Fast forward to last week, I was discussing my career path with a mentor.  As part of the discussion she started listing my skill set.  I almost immediately started qualifying her list.  I do employment law, but I don't know ERISA very well; I handle our internal litigation, but it's really only managing outside counsel... etc.   As soon as the words left my mouth I knew that I was doing it again - I was downplaying my experience and expertise.  Doing this doesn't win you any promotions, or gain the confidence of any of your business clients.  In all reality I could take an employment position in house and do well.  I could join a litigation team in house and do well.  I have a broad base of skills that I've worked very hard to cultivate.  But I'm too afraid of sounding cocky so I hedge them with qualifications making me seem less competent than I am.

On the other side of the coin is a friend that I met with a few weeks ago.  He was in the running for a new job and asked me to review his resume.  He had embellished a bit on his experience.  Calling the securities work he did, "transactional" and including IP in his wheel house because he worked on valuing it for public offerings.  He's never actually done daily business transactions or registered a trademark or patent.  But he felt confident that he had the fundamentals from his experience and could easily pick up the rest.  He got the job.

Now I'm not advocating lying on a resume.  We all know where that gets you.  But you should feel confident in the skill set that you have cultivated.  And you should feel confident in presenting that skill set in a way which reaches your client base, and your resume isn't the only place that you present your skills.

My HR team doesn't understand the difference between an ERISA attorney and a employment law generalist.  So why would I go out of my way to inform them that I'm not an ERISA attorney?  They don't care.  They care that I can answer their questions about ADA accommodations.  My dev team doesn't care that I don't prosecute the patents myself, they care that I manage the process in a way that gets them their bonus on time and gets the most valuable ideas protected.  My marketing team doesn't care if I have ever argued in front of a judge, they care that I know the basic advertising laws and when/how to stop competitors from unfairly copying their hard work.

Being confident in how I present my competencies to these teams will define the relationship with them.   Qualifying my skill set with nuanced explanations is lost on them and will only hurt my chances to get the next promotion, or better job, or to even be told the next time there is an issue that legal needs to know about.

So kids, this week's lesson is one I'm still learning - justified confidence is not cocky.  So go out and start to be confident today.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Take Control

As a follow up to last week's post about bringing courage into your career, I want to take a moment to promote another aspect of successful business people that lawyers can learn from - taking control.  One of the most successful business people I've ever met, Bob Parsons, has an air about him.  It's an air of authority.  A larger than life personality that fills the room even before he enters it.  A big part of that is how he takes control of every moment of his life.  It's a trait that a lot of entrepreneurs have - don't like your 9 to 5, quit and take control of your own financial future.

Now, we can't all be entrepreneurs for macroeconomic and microeconomic reasons.  Lawyers on a whole would make horrible entrepreneurs precisely because we have a hard time taking risks.  As counterintuitive as it sounds, taking control over your career is also taking the biggest risk one can make professionally.  It's no secret that I am the breadwinner in my family with three children depending on me, one of which requires extensive and expensive therapies.  So taking control of my career, and the risk that making a mistake may cost that stability is the scariest thing on earth to me.

But that doesn't mean that I, or you, should let our fears run our careers.  You're much more likely to gain the respect of your peers and your management team if you bring a little of that entrepreneurial spirit to your practice.  Take some risks occasionally  not just risks to the business by letting that indemnity clause go, but risks to you by speaking out against a bad business idea or setting boundaries to when and what you will do.  Control your career by branching out in speaking engagements, or social media.  Garner a name for yourself independent of your employer to make yourself a commodity worth keeping.  Understand your worth and offer proof of it to your employer on a regular basis - not just at review time.  Keep your options open.  In the corporate world today, loyalty is only so valuable.  You need to keep honing your skills and keep an eye on the job market.  Know what it's doing at all times and know how easily or how difficult it will be for you to find your next opportunity.  Don't be at the mercy of a bad boss, or a bad business plan.

Take control of your career in the way that serial CEOs do.  Like them, you'll find that once you control yourself, you'll start to emit an air of authority that creates a respect before you even enter the room.  With that, you can better control the rest of your world, all while still receiving a paycheck from someone else.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Be Brave

Yesterday I spent the day surrounded by professional women at the Texas Professional Women's Conference.  It was my first year attending, but it definitely won't be my last.  I was very inspired by the success stories of the entrepreneurs and business women and the eagerness of everyone to help out the next generation of women to surpass their success.  The conference was definitely geared towards the entrepreneurial spirit, but the lessons it had to offered can be easily translated into practice tips for in house women lawyers.  I know I've got several post ideas out of the different sessions I attended, stay tuned for what is sure to be a deluge of entrepreneurial lessons to apply to in house practice.

The general theme that carried the day was one of courage.  Over and over again the panelists and presenters encouraged the audience of almost 5000 to be brave.  Take ownership of what you want and be willing to do what's necessary to get there.  Don't be afraid to ask for help or take risks - including the risk of absolute failure.

Very often we, as women and as lawyers, are so personally risk averse that we hedge our bets.  We fail to commit fully.  We frame our answers to the hard questions with weasel words like "it depends" or "I think".   It holds back our ability to gain full trust from those we are advising and our ability to move ahead in our careers. We sabotage our ability to be the best we can be because we are afraid of appearing weak by asking for help, or worse incompetent by having the wrong answer.  Combine that with the real fear of committing malpractice by offering reckless advice, and we've stuck ourselves in the back seat of our companies and our lives.

Business men don't typically have the same fears.  They tend to take on the challenges not knowing if they are capable of doing it, giving themselves the opportunity to rise above their experience.  The most successful will confidently forge ahead even when the worst case scenario is complete failure.  They don't do it recklessly, instead they surround themselves with mentors and experts to advise and guide them to the right path.  If going down a path completely uncharted they acknowledge the chance of failure and move on anyway.  They understand instinctually that you can't be a star by sitting in the audience, only by entering the arena can you shine.

As they say with most recovery programs, the first step is admitting there's a problem.  Look at your professional interactions.  Are you always sitting in the back, or at the table?  Do you naturally fill the service roll - getting coffee, taking notes, administering the meeting rather than participating in it?  Does your advice contain weasel words?  Does your voice rise when talking to your executives making you sound unsure of yourself?  If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, make a conscious effort to take risk.

Begin by arriving to your next meeting slightly early and grabbing a seat at the table instead of the periphery   Make a point to comment on the business and not just the legal.  Just one comment, it doesn't have to be controversial or even memorable at first.  Just start to participate.  When asked for your advice, don't hesitate, don't weasel or hedge the answer.  Be confident and firm in your delivery.  If you don't know the answer, tell them you'll find out and let them know in an hour.  Then do it.  If it's an uncertain area of law/business, tell them it's not fully played out yet but you'd bet that it will turn out like xyz.  Put yourself out there and know that it may result in you being brilliantly wrong.  It will be hard at first, but once you begin to believe in yourself, so will others.  Only then will you have the opportunity to shine.

My early New Year's resolution is to be brave.  I'll keep you posted on the progress I make.  For today, I'm going to make a conscious effort to eliminate the weasel words.  How will you start being brave?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Got business?

One of the best things about being in house is the fact that you don't have to generate business.  I can only empathize with my firm colleagues on how stressful it is to have to be "salesman" on top of attorney.  That said, please stop hitting me up for business the first time we meet.  When the second thing out of your mouth (after, what company are you with) is what are your legal needs, I immediately turn off and will almost as quickly forget you.  If you truly want my business here's a few things you should know about how I, and many of my in house brethren, award business.

Small matters go to people we know and like.  Generally a specialist in the area.  I don't typically hire firms, I hire attorneys.  And usually, I'm hiring the associate who will do the actual work and not the partner who manages the account.  If you want to get the small matters that we don't do in house then you'll want to have your associates spend a little time networking with in house attorneys.  Giving CLE's is a good way to get some face time with in house folks and become somewhat connected with an area of expertise without having to oversell it.

If I don't know someone who specializes in the area I need, I ask my in house friends for references.  You'd be surprised at the information we share when it comes to representation.  Who does quality work efficiently, who over bills, who wastes time, who is pleasant to work with and who is a pain in the ass, etc.  Make a good impression and we'll go out of our way to promote you.  Make a bad impression and we'll go out of our way to warn others about you.  Make no impression and, well, you're on your own.

For big matters, those multi-million dollar lawsuits or bet the business transactions, I typically put it out to bid.  I won't lie, cost is a factor.  But value is a bigger factor.  Having the right expertise and the right "fit" for the matter and our company culture will give you bonus points and may outweigh a savings from a competitor firm.  If I like you, you'll be on my list of firms that I invite to bid.  But you won't be alone on the list.  This is business and I have a responsibility to my company to get the best value possible.  Know that we evaluate everything, from your initial response to your presentation.

You will most likely be competing with at least 10 other firms of varying size and focus.  I typically include boutiques as well as big and small general practice firms in a RFP. In the initial response you will need to put your best foot forward and explain why I need you and your firm instead of a more specialized group.  If you make the first cut, I'll invite you (and at least 2 of your competitors) to meet with the business stakeholders   In this phase, you've already sold me that you have the basic legal expertise needed.  Now I'm looking for the "fit" with the stakeholders and the right staffing.  Again, I generally will take a hard look at the associate you present because I know they'll be doing the lion's share of the work.

My business stakeholders are going to be comparing you in the most general terms to the other lawyers.  You're not going to sell them on how you know this specific area of law better than the other guys.  So don't try.  Sell them on how you can handle this particular matter better than the other guys.  Whether that's because you have experience with the judge, the opposing counsel, the subject matter, etc.  Give them something to differentiate you from the other guys.  Give them a taste of what they can expect if we hire you, some out of the box thinking on the matter at hand, something, anything.  If you come with a presentation about how great your firm is and how well you know about xyz law with the same basic formula that any lawyer with a bit of experience is going to pitch, you'll lose.  Go above and beyond, spend a little bit of time.  After all, you may not win this matter but if you make an impression you'll be remembered for the next, and I might even recommend you to a friend.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What to be for Halloween?

Every year my company does a Halloween costume contest in which I am 'highly encouraged' to participate (the joys of working for a tech company).  My first year I dressed up as a pregnant nun which was hilarious because I was in fact pregnant and it was my 3rd day at work as the company's first lawyer.  It helped set the tone for how my relationship would go with the company.  Now I've got to top that in some creative way and I'm drawing a blank.  So dear readers I'm sending out a plea for help.  Have a work appropriate suggestion?  Leave it in the comments or email me

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I'm always looking for ways to improve - as a wife, a mother, a lawyer and even as a blogger.  In this last endeavor, one way I look for improvement is to see how people find me.  It's a very interesting and sometimes humorous exercise to go through the keywords that lead people to the blog.  Many times, its from a question.  So in hopes of helping these lost souls, I thought I'd address some of the keyword searches that lead people to this blog.

1.  Do you really need a social media policy?
        Yes.  If you have employees and they have access to technology then you need a social media policy.  See the original post here.

2.  How to get an in house counsel job without connections?
    Network, network, network.  You can keep current on the posted openings and get to know recruiters who work in the industry.  But the fact remains that the majority of in house jobs are filled through networking.  Need advice on networking, check out these posts: Networking Part 1; Networking part 2.

3.  Managing outside counsel...
    Managing outside counsel can be challenging, frustrating and at times hugely rewarding.  You must walk the line between looking out for the business side of things (i.e. staying on budget, managing expectations, etc.) and being an effective advocate for your client.  Often these objectives are at odds with each other and your outside counsel will almost always come down on the advocacy side regardless of the cost.  You have to actively manage them to ensure that you get the value your company needs.  At the same time, I have learned so much from outside counsel.  I usually only hire counsel for matters that I am not qualified to handle in house.  As a result, in the course of the representation I learn a lot about new areas of law and procedure.  For a more in depth view on managing counsel, go back to this July post.

4.  Can practicing law be fun?
  Absolutely.  And it can be miserable too.  Totally depends on your personality, and your employer.  Some lawyers are the firm type and would hate being in house.  Others, like me, are definitely in house lawyers from birth and would hate doing anything else.  I've found that a large part of the 'fun' in practicing comes from working for an employer in an industry that I find 'fun'.  It makes the tedium of reviewing yet another service agreement a little less boring.  I love start up(ish) tech companies.  For ten reasons why, check out this very popular post.

5.  He have to promote diversity (sic)
  I'm not sure where this reader was coming from, but the short answer is, "No, he doesn't".  There's a difference between being discriminatory and promoting diversity.  While I fully advocate promoting diversity (see posts here, here and here), it's a should do not a must do.

6.  How should inhouse solicitor sign off a letter?
  Simply, and with your title.  I typically sign off with Best Regards, Tanya Avila, Associate General Counsel.

7.  I went to the house of the jackass and I learn...
  I'd love to know the follow up to what this person learned.  I've learned quite a bit from jackasses over the years.  One of this blog's most popular posts is dedicated to that concept.  It's also my personal motto that I have made a mission to impart to my sons (and as many other people who will listen to me...)

8.  In house boring lawyer
  Guilty as charged.  In house lawyers are typically boring to non-in house lawyers.  It's not completely our fault.  We work long hours for a single client and professional ethics and rules prohibit us from being able to talk openly about much of it.  So, as a result we make very boring dinner guests.

9.  In house vacation time
  I assume this reader was looking for a range of what kind of vacation an in house lawyer can expect.  Unfortunately, you won't find this on the internet.  The main reason is that it varies from company to company.  For the most part, you get the same vacation allotment that everyone else in the company gets.  So if the company policy is 2 weeks, you get 2 weeks annually.  Other companies have more generous policies of 4 weeks.  A few have even moved to an unlimited PTO model that doesn't cap time off so long as productivity levels remain at desired output.  Although the average is probably 3 weeks of vacation with 1 week of sick time, the only way to know for sure is to find out what the company you're thinking of joining offers.  Not that it matters much.  Most in house lawyers I know don't use all their vacation allotment regardless of the time granted.  For a quick look into why, check out this post from a few weeks ago.

10.  In house counsel dealing with difficult business people
  I wish I had a single post I could link to with a quick answer for this one.  The fact of the matter is that there are a million different ways of dealing with difficult business people - primarily because there are a million different ways that business people can be difficult.  The best general advice I can offer is to remember that the main goal for everyone should be the best interest of the company.  Try to find that common ground and you'll more likely to gain their trust.  Once trusted, it's more likely that their "difficultness" will be directed to others.  I've found that most often difficult business people are driven by internal politics and not a direct malice.  Treating them with respect will go a long way.

Have any advice that differs from mine?  Feel free to leave it in the comments.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I've been practicing for a while now and I have come to know two things with certainty.  One, I am really good at my job.  Time and again, my instincts prove true.  Even when I lacked the communication skills to persuade my business partners to take me seriously, events usually played out like I thought they would.  This makes me very good at my job, as I'm able to quickly ascertain what the risks are and know what we should do to mitigate or respond.  Being able to respond quickly and within the tolerances of the company saves us time and money.  Something every business person respects.  Knowing this also gives me confidence when communicating to my peers and management team.  The skill set and institutional knowledge I have gained over my years of in house practice have made me very valuable to my employer.

The second thing I know with absolute certainty is that I could be replaced in a heartbeat.  No matter how good I am at my job, there's always going to be someone who is better.  Or someone who has the capacity to learn and will do it for cheaper.  If the internal politics or overall business strategy dictates that instead of a corporate generalists we need a specialist to serve the business better, then I'm replaceable.  In house lawyers are subject to economic forces to a greater extent than firm lawyers.  We're a cost center and when the company is feeling pain, it has to reduce costs.  If a less experienced lawyer shows aptitude to pick up on the same skills that I have, but will do it at 2/3rds the pay, I'm replaceable.  If we hire a new CFO who doesn't like the color of my hair, then I'm replaceable.  (For those wondering - it's red for now, although not a true ginger so I think I still have a soul, but some people just don't like redheads...)

What it means for me, and for anyone else in my position, is that I have to constantly prove my worth.  I have to make the value I add to the organization known in a way that highlights my unique value as well as the value of the law department generally.  And I have to do this in a humble way so as not to be seen as a diva demanding kudos at every turn.  Add to the complexity that you're usually proving the negative (we saved millions by not doing that because we weren't sued/fined/etc, without having proof that you would have been sued/fined/etc had you acted differently), and you're usually proving value to people who have no clue what you do day to day.

One way to do this is to make sure that you (and your work) has visibility within the organization.  Present metrics to your management team about what you're doing.  Quantify and qualify the work that you're doing. e.g. I review an average of 20 contracts a month, with an average turnaround time of 2 days. While you don't add it to the graph, make sure they know that it used to take the outside counsel 2-3 weeks to get a single contract turned around for a much higher cost than in house.  Tie preventative measures to cost savings. e.g. Since we've incorporated management training regarding employment law basics, we've seen a decrease of 10% in the number of employment based claims/threats.  By putting the value of the legal team into the same format that they use to judge the value of the ops team or the marketing team, you'll begin to illustrate the value of legal generally.

The harder part is illustrating the value of you personally.  Why you over the new guy who's cheaper or the other guy who's done nothing but litigation in his career?  For corporate generalists like me, prepare your charts in a way that incorporates on a single page the wide variety of things you're able to manage internally without outside costs.  Work the internal politics and make sure you've got advocates from each group that you support.  Give them what they need before they need it and you'll be seen as invaluable.  If your IT manager knows that she doesn't have to train you on how the technology works every time a new IT contract comes up, and your HR manager knows that he can count on you to know the answer to that FMLA question immediately, they'll go to bat for you if discussion of replacing you comes around.  And while I hate to say it, not all teams are created equal in the corporate world.  Within your organization you will have a hierarchy of whose opinion matters most.  It may be HR or Finance, it may be Sales.  Whoever it is, make them  a priority.  And for those whose opinions are considered but not always solicited, give them the best service you can but don't kill yourself trying to prioritize everyone.  As much as it pains me to admit it, the third thing I have learned with absolute certainty is that in the corporate world, politics matters as much if not more than how good you are at your job.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Time Off

Lawyers are typically very driven people.  We compete with each other over who works the hardest.  We measure our worth by the number of productive hours we put in each year.  So when it comes to taking time off, we are reluctant participants to say the least.  We say we go in house for the "balance", but anyone who has spent any time in house knows that's a myth.  You trade billable hours for quarter and year end.  You work just as much, you just don't get the same recognition for it - which generally makes us work more.  We just get a bit more control over our schedules so we can make it to soccer practice or choir concerts and still get the job done.

In house lawyers are constantly proving their value to the company.  It's not easy being a cost center.  So we become paranoid about perceptions.  And let's be clear, the perception of not working hard or being "under assigned" can undermine your entire standing within the organization.  In house lawyers are typically among the highest paid employees at a company.  The people working with you have to think that you're earning that privilege or they'll make life very difficult for you.  Combine the need to control perceptions with a lawyers natural proclivity towards grinding out work and you can go years without truly having a day off.

Don't get me wrong, we go on 'vacations' and take 'sick days'.  Those days we only work a couple of hours.  We may not do more than answer emails on the weekends.  But we rarely turn it all off completely.  I worked in the recovery room after having 2 of my kids.  As soon as the drugs wore off enough I was on my smart phone answering emails and setting up meetings.  No one asked me to.  No one really expected me to, but I did because that what lawyers do.

Last week I got sick with strep throat (for the second time in a month!), and my first thought wasn't about getting better - it was about how much work I have on my desk.  So, I fired off an email to my boss and let him know I was going to work from home to spare the office my germs.  His response was no.  Don't work, take a sick day.  Focus on getting better.  I'll be honest, at first I was annoyed.  I have too much work to do to ignore it until Monday.  We've talked about how behind I am on certain things.  So, why would he even suggest that I take a day off?  Then my husband reminded me that I'm just a lawyer.  A corporate one at that.  No one will die if I let those contracts sit until Monday.  No one will go to jail and the company won't lose millions of dollars.  No one will really miss me if I take just one day off.  He's right, they both are.  I needed to actually rest and let my body heal itself.  I needed to take the day completely off.  So I reluctantly agreed.  (And I only answered a few emails so it almost does count as a day completely off.)

With the holidays coming up, we need to remind ourselves that we're really not that important.  And even if we are, no one blames us for taking some time off to achieve that "balance" that everyone talks about.  So plan it now, make sure you've covered your bases and then take a real vacation.  Maybe even go somewhere that your smart phone won't work.  You'll come back refreshed and with enough energy to tackle those projects that you're months behind on.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What is the "cloud" and why to we care?

Everywhere you turn today you hear about “the cloud”.  From advertisements promoting how efficient and cheap it is to dire warnings from legal experts about the dangers of compliance issues related to it.  Honestly most of us don’t understand how “the cloud” differs from what we have going on right now.  More importantly, most of us don’t know why we should care.
I care, mostly because I work for a hosting provider and I’m paid to care.  But beyond that, I’m a geek at heart, and while I only understand a small bit of the technology behind it, I’m fascinated by what smart people are able to do with technology. 

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients.”  If you’re like me, the first thought that comes to mind after reading that was, “huh?”  A better explanation comes from Campus Technology.  Although it’s geared towards educational institutions, it’s a good read; their piece likens the cloud to a combination of your household utilities, you don’t know how the electricity is generated, but it’s always there when you need it.  In the background, the cloud is using data to provision the right resources to the heterogeneous applications hosted on multiple servers to allow you to access your application or data quickly and efficiently.  You may not understand how the email service works, but it’s always there when you need to send an email.  And now, the cloud has expanded beyond traditional software and a service (SaaS) models to entire platforms and infrastructures (PaaS and IaaS respectively). 

The benefit to the business is that it no longer has to carry the cost and the man power to support the hardware, software, maintenance and other heavy lifting when it comes to applications.  You can use Google docs from any internet connection on any machine, without an individual license for each machine.  Some cloud host can provide the hardware and server software licenses to host your email, accounting, word processing or virtually any other software.  The cost savings is huge.  And because the third party can host data and applications for multiple customers on the same group of machines, it’s a lot more cost effective for them.  As an added benefit, competition amongst cloud hosts mean that the efficiency of the machines being used to host the software and applications is always improving to provide that competitive edge.  Cheaper and more efficient – what’s not to love?

And that’s where all those harbingers of horrors come in.  Did you catch the part where the third party can host data and applications for multiple customers on the same group of machines?  That means no more air-wall between your company’s data and that of third parties.   The data can be accessed from multiple machines with the correct interface, often just a web browser.  It no longer is completely contained on company owned and thus company controlled machines.  The redundancy involved in providing cloud services is a great thing from an IT perspective as it means your data will always be available – but it also means that you can’t just hit delete and have a guarantee that it’s truly gone.  And then there’s the taxing issue, if you were buying those servers and licenses sales and use taxes are fairly clear.  When turning software, platforms and infrastructure into services, it becomes a murkier issue.  While most of that falls on the host, your company may be on the hook for use taxes it didn’t know it was supposed to submit.

With your IT department jumping on the cloud bandwagon and your finance team cheering at the cost savings, how do you protect your company without raining on the parade?  First, as with any critical element make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company.  The cloud may be new, but hosting isn’t.  You should be able to find a hosting company that has a history of providing security, efficiencies and value.  Get an idea as to the level of security protocols in place.  Packages of data should be firewalled and protections should be in place that prohibits other users from accessing your data.  Know where the servers are located and what jurisdiction will govern the data.  For example, the EU has much different data privacy laws that the USA, and where the servers are – not the host’s corporate office or your location will govern. 

Second, make sure that any sensitive data has encryption and authentication built into the application.  Be practical about what your requirements are – if you’re storing customer payment data require PCI level security measures as a baseline.  If you’re storing HR data, require authentication and account logging.  Don’t require Fort Knox for archives of your publically available website.

 Finally, make sure the TOS has appropriate protections – but keep in mind, SaaS and PaaS providers aren’t likely to negotiate much, if any.  And they really shouldn't, their business model is to sell a one size fits all type solution for low margins to a high volume of customers.  Having unique terms for even 10% of their customers will dramatically change the business model and raise the prices. If the TOS don’t match your needs, find a provider that has the terms you do need.  If none do, then reassess whether the terms you are looking for are really needed for practical reasons or academic.  Ask yourself if the cloud is really practical given your company's risk tolerance.  For IaaS, you should be able to negotiate the majority of the terms. 

It’s pretty clear that “the Cloud” is here to stay, at least until the next thing comes along.  By staying on top of the privacy, security and compliance issues you can do a lot to protect your company while taking advantage of the cost and efficiency improvements the cloud can bring.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What's in a name?

When talking to a firm lawyer, you can generally get an idea about their general level of experience, range of billable rate and the extent that they may have decision making ability based on their title.  There are exceptions of course, but for the most part this is true.  It makes it slightly easier when negotiating with them as you already have some basic information about them.  The rest you can generally get off the firm website.

None of that holds true for in house counsel.  Can you tell anything reliable from a title of a staff counsel, corporate counsel, assistant general counsel, associate general counsel, deputy general counsel, director of legal, vp, or division general counsel? Not really.  Depending on the size of the company and the size of the legal department you might have a general counsel with 4-5 years experience negotiating an agreement with a assistant general counsel with 20 years experience.  A corporate counsel may be responsible for managing all legal affairs for the Americas while a VP of Legal may only manage the litigation for their company.  To throw another wrench in the mix, when dealing with start ups, the general counsel may only have 5 years of legal experience, but has been involved in the business since the garage days and understands every aspect of the deal much more than the 20 year vet who only does transactions.  The young GC may also have a lot more influence with the executive team and the board than a director at a larger company whose never met the board.

In the in house world, a title can be absolutely worthless in sizing up the opposition. However, they can be huge negotiating points when hiring on new talent.  Lawyers are by nature an egocentric bunch.  It's why so many of us sign off on letters as "Esquire" (a habit that I always make fun of when I get letters signed this way).  And why some lawyers will ridiculously call themselves "doctors" just because there's a doctorate in the degree.  While we probably aren't trying too hard to recruit those guys, trying to get a qualified candidate to head up your litigation management or to manage the millions of dollars in transactions you do each year is going to be hard if you post an opening for "counsel".

At the same time, you're not doing anyone a favor by hiring a first year and calling him a VP.  Striking the balance between what is appropriate and what is desirable can be difficult.  Especially for smaller companies who don't have large, structured law departments and don't typically pay as well.  A trade off for a higher salary might require a better title.  Which of course might invoke jealousy in current members of the team.  Hiring a new deputy general counsel to manage a specialized, hard to fill area won't sit well with your existing crew if they're all stuck at corporate counsel.

It's a good idea to have a succession plan of titles to give your team something to grow into and achieve.  Having a good set of criteria as to when someone would qualify for the title is critical, as is having a good idea of when to set aside that criteria.  Messaging to your team about what, if anything, the titles they carry convey to the rest of the company is also important.  Keep in mind that the title will also convey a meaning, weather accurate or not, to the outside world.  A world that includes the opposition as well as parents, spouses, friends and family.  Sometimes a nice title is all that's needed to keep a valued employee happy.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Things I Never Thought I'd Say

This week I had my monthly lunch with a group of in house attorneys who also happen to be moms.  We try to meet once a month to give each other advice and support on work issues and family issues.  It's usually a very valuable lunch as a learn a lot from these ladies, and have a laugh here and there too.

While sharing stories of the incredible things are kids were doing, I was reminded of a list on Facebook I had seen earlier, "Things I Never Thought I'd Say" as a mom.  It was cute and included things like, "You can have a cupcake if you eat your hotdog" and "Let me smell your hands".  both things I've said relatively recently to Z, my oldest.  So we started talking about things we never thought we'd say as lawyers.

As a eager young first year law student I had an image of what practicing law would be like.  Not knowing any real lawyers before law school, it was an image shaped by tv, famous lawyers and pure imagination.  I expected a very professional environment with lots of respect for the position.
When I started my first day as a "real lawyer" at an internet company I had a very quick realization that my image was all wrong.  In reality, there are a bunch of things that we in house lawyers say on an almost daily basis that we never dreamed of saying when we're in law school.  Here's some of my favorites from our discussion this week.  Feel free to add yours to the comments.

"Put your shoes on."

"Please stop following me with the Justin Beiber cut out, it's creepy."

"No, we can't get a trademark on 'Email Services'."

"Beer Friday's is not permission to have Jack Daniel's Friday."

"No, it's not possible to have a complete review of this 120 page contract done in 2 hours.  Give me 6 and I'll have a redline for you."

"I know you think it's a great history lesson, but lecturing the staff on why Good Friday is a holiday is probably a bad idea."

"No shooting in the face!  Aim for the body or I'm taking your Nerf guns away!" -- okay I may have said that one to Z too.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Overlawyering - Avoid at all Costs!

The fear of all business people working with counsel is overlawyering.  It's frustrating when you're paying someone by the hour to help you complete the paper so you can close the big deal or advise you on the risk of that new product.  It's crippling when it comes from your in house counsel who is supposed to be on "your side".  For in house counsel, overlawyering will get you quickly and permanently removed from the conversation and will force you into a much more reactionary role.

For those of you thinking I just made up the word, overlawyering is when the lawyer aggressively attempts to eradicate all risk in a transaction, document or product.  It's when the 3 page contract you send to them comes back with 10 more pages, or when the disclaimers they insist go with your new marketing campaign take up half the page.  From the business perspective, it's when the lawyers are showing that they just don't get it.

The worst part about it is that all lawyers do it at some point.  There at least one issue that you've had bad experience with in the past that you want to protect your client from in the future.  On this one issue your mind overrides your common sense and tells you that they don't understand that the risk is real and its your job to make everything as risk free as possible.  Only that's not your job.  Your job is to facilitate the business purpose while managing the risk in a business-centric way.

Yes, the indemnity clause could be better.  Yes the limits of liability are way too low if a catastrophe happens.  The proposed marketing plan will always walk the line on what's technically allowable under current regulations.  The new product will have unknown risk associated with it that can't be completely planned for.  The thing is, that business people know there is risk involved.  They want you to minimize it, but know you can't eliminate it.  And they don't want you to.  If it was completely risk free, everyone would do it and there wouldn't be any money in it.  

If you've been accused of overlawyering or know there is a particular issue to which you are sensitive, take more time before answering the question or returning the redline.  After your initial review, take a few minutes to think about the business side of the matter and then re-review.  Put the risk into perspective: how much is to be made on the deal?  What's the real likelihood of the risk becoming reality?  If it does, what's it likely to cost?  Then revise your answer to be more business friendly.  Highlight the risks that you didn't attack in a cover-email or in conversation and ask if the client would like you to be more aggressive.  Nine times out of ten, the answer will be no but you will have shown your business partners that you understand the value of good lawyering and the detriment of overlawyering.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Words matter.

This week my son brought home a flyer in his backpack promoting the schools "Watch D.O.G." program and asking the students dads to volunteer.  The organization is designed to provide strong, positive male role models at the school.  As a concept, we very much approve of the idea and celebrate that at least in our school district dads are seen as just as necessary for a child's success as moms.  However, the flyer was titled, "Calling all Dogs!"  And they lost my husband right there.  He started going off on why men have to be compared to dogs, which usually carries a negative context while the moms are always given positive monikers.  It offended him deeply.  Now maybe it's part of his own issues related to being an early adopter of the stay at home dad phenomena. Maybe he's the only person in the history of the program to draw that connection.  I doubt it, he's not usually the super sensitive, politically correct type.  Either way, it illustrates the point that words matter.

As lawyers, we very carefully choose our words when drafting a pleading, a contract or an email to a client or opposing counsel.  We may be less careful when communicating with friends, family and co-workers, or when communicating things that don't have "legal" significance.  One of the soft skills they don't teach you in law school is how to perfect this second type of communication.  It's easy to fire off an email to a co-worker about a non-legal issue without thinking about how your word choice may change the way your co-worker receives the message.  It's often words that invoke an emotional reaction from the reader that may hijack your message and turn it into drama.

I'm not advocating spending the time and care in crafting emails about lunch as you do in crafting complex contracts.  But you should get to know your co-workers and colleagues enough to know what their sensitivities.  For those you don't know well, format your communications as if your target audience is your grandmother.  (Proper grammar and all!)  You may just avoid having that email explaining why someone was not invited to a meeting turn into World War III.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Having it All

Last week I went to lunch with a bright young lawyer who was struggling with finding the right fit professionally.  Among her concerns was the fact that she wanted to start a family, and had to consider the timing of that so as to minimize the impact on her career.  After leaving that lunch I had a conversation with my aunt, who is not a lawyer, about how work life has changed and hasn't changed for women.  The more we talked, the more I realized that the things that make it possible for a woman to be successful and "have it all" are the same things required for men - men just don't publicize it.

Every successful working mom I know has followed one of three paths; they either have an incredible support network or spouse carrying the heavy lifting on the domestic front, have held off on really focusing on their careers until the kids are older, or have held off on having kids until after they've reached some measure of 'success'.  The same can be said for all of the successful working dads I know - the majority have wives that support their career by taking on the majority of the domestic responsibilities (this is regardless of whether they work also or not).  But no one makes a big deal out of it when a man does it.  And no one asks him if it's hard to miss out on the soccer games and PTA like they're looking for some reason to diminish his professional success or guilt him for his lack of patriarchal involvement.

Similarly, when I had each of my kids I know I suffered the physical affects of birth and sleep deprivation from having a new born.  But so did my husband.  He was up with the baby as often if not more often than me, and he had to deal with the toddlers we had at home as well.  So why is it when I wanted to work while on maternity leave after the birth of my second child I got a lot of condescension from superiors about how hard it was to have a baby and instructions to "enjoy" the time with my new blob of sleeping, eating, pooping joy?  While at the same time, a male colleague having twins the same month was harassed for wanting to take a month off to get in the rhythm of new family life?

It's true that in order for any of us, male or female, to "have it all" we need to have a network of support that allows us to reach our potential while not punishing us for trying to achieve balance.  And that, dear readers, is where the purpose of this post lies.  Most in house lawyers are leaders of some kind within their respective companies.  Whether you're the GC, a managing lawyer or just staff counsel, people within the company look to you and the legal department for guidance on a variety of things - some not very legal in nature.  So the first step to achieving an environment where we can all have it all is to be the example.  The legal department should support the flexibility required to maintain a family and a career without judgment while at the same time understanding that it looks different for each person depending on their situation and personality.  It was unfair to belittle and punish me for wanting to get back to work quickly and to harass my colleague for wanting more time with his twins.  We each had different support networks in place at home, different experiences (my second, his first) and different working habits.  Effective management would be to offer equal flexibility, but understand that it looks differently for each employee.

Second, when the HR team or other business unit looks to you or the legal department for guidance on policies, be an advocate for flexibility.  While it's not a strictly legal standard, you can influence the decisions made by pointing out the benefits of assisting your employees to have opportunity to both build their career and their families.  Encourage your leaders to recognize productivity and efficiencies rather than pure hours in the office and face time.   It is definitely important to hold your employees to high standards, but less important on how they meet or exceed those requirements.

We're a long way from anyone getting to truly "have it all", but working together to change the conversation will definitely push us in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Art of Networking Part 2

All 3 of my faithful readers will have noted my absence last week - sorry, I was laid up with a serious strep infection and barely conscious.  I did write this article first last week, but after reading it while not heavily drugged, I realized that I really shouldn't post anything I write while under the influence of anything.  So here's take 2 on the promised follow up to why networking is important. Thank you for your patience.

Art of Networking Part 2 - a.k.a. How the hell do I do it?

We all agree that networking is extremely important for lawyers.  Firm lawyers need to network to generate more business.  In house lawyers need to network to expand their resource network as well as stay poised for that next position.  We also all agree that networking can suck.  Going to after hours happy hours with people you've never met to talk about the only thing you have in common - the law can be mind-blowingly dull.  However there are ways of making it much more productive.  I've polled some of the best net-workers in my professional network to get some advice on how to make it work.  Much of this is stuff you've probably heard before, but there's a reason for the repetitiveness - it works!

K Royal, Privacy Counsel at Align Technology gives a networking primer for new law grads.  While she has a great ice breaker built in (yes, her name really is just the letter K), she offers other practical tips on networking.  Starting with, you are ALWAYS networking.  Stephanie Sandell, Conflicts Counsel at Snell & Wilmer agrees, she does the most "networking" within her firm.  Every person you meet is a potential contact within your network. Even the girl getting your coffee at Starbucks. Act accordingly.  K also advises to network at all levels, not just other lawyers or executives.  You never know who is connected to whom, or who holds the real power in an organization.  I always make a habit of getting to know the admins of every department/executive I work with.  Often times they have a ton of insight into the total picture of how a company is run as well as who the power players are.

As much of a chore as networking is, it is important to remember that the process isn't about you, it's about the other person.  K recommends that you learn who they are and what interests them.  Find out what you can do for someone else.  That will create an enduring memory of you, and when the time comes - if it comes, they will be more willing to lend you a helping hand or send business your way.  Nicole Sallie Franklin, IP Specialist at Facebook, agrees.  She recommends going to each event with the mindset of "how can I help someone else" to alleviate the performance anxiety of networking.

There was some disagreement among the 'experts' on how often to attend networking events.  Nicole encourages you to skip things if you're not feeling up to it.  As the impression you leave on others if you're having an off day may not be the one you want them to have. Christine Jones, former General Counsel at encourages you to go to everything you can.  Attending a wide variety of events will expose you to many different people and open up more opportunity.  Conny Ruthven, General Counsel at Ad Revolution recommends a compromise - partner up with a friend.  Having plans with a friend is a lot less intimidating than going to a networking event, and you'll be less likely to want to bow out.  She also highly recommends not keeping it to official "events" as a normal old dinner party can create some very valuable contacts and friends.

Once you've made it through the door, don't undo it by doing nothing.  Just showing up is not enough, you have to work the room.  Everyone agreed that while you should acknowledge the people in the room that you know, sit at a table with people you don't.  Christine recommends working the room like the host.  Offering to get a drink for someone may take off the pressure of randomly introducing yourself to a stranger.  I get nervous in a room full of strangers, and am not nearly as charming as Christine.  So I make it a rule to try to get to know one new person at every event.  Limiting my goal to one person out of the room takes the pressure off of having to work the crowd and allows me to find someone who I may have something in common to talk about (kids is a big one these days).

The biggest key to successful networking isn't what you do while at an event or while talking with that potential contact, it comes the next day with the follow up.  If you don't follow up with the contacts you make, you'll always be that nice girl/guy they met at that dinner.  Following up sets the expectation that you want longer term interaction.  K recommends waiting until the next day to follow up with an email, noting that sending it the same night might be a little stalkerish.  Nicole agrees, and recommends adding your LinkedIn profile if you'd like to add them as a connection there.  Everyone agrees that adding a personal detail about the conversation you had to help them remember you from the sea of other would be net-workers is a must.  This shouldn't be a request for free advice or a job, rather something that reminds them of the conversation and you.  You may even offer some information that follows up on the conversation, in my case the contact info for that pre-k program or an email introduction to a mutual friend with a lunch invitation. Follow up again in about a month with additional information or an invitation to coffee for catching up.  You'll be amazed at how easily you can turn these contacts into friends and how quickly your network grows.

Have advice we haven't gone over yet?  Please share in the comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Art of Networking Part 1

Lawyers are not generally the best networkers.  Something in our analytic nature makes the thought of networking high on the least favorite parts of the job list for most of us.  Or maybe it's the adversarial nature of the law that makes us reluctant to be too friendly.  Either way, it's undeniable that networking can benefit your career tremendously.  Those soft social skills are often what sets apart a successful lawyer from everyone else.  This is especially true in house.  The most successful, and happiest in house lawyers I know have networked their way into jobs they love.

In one case, one lawyer (who would prefer not to be named) found the company she wanted to work for but they didn't have an in house team.  She worked to get their business for her firm, all the while knowing her ultimate goal was to move in house there.  She utilized her network in the industry to meet the CEO socially on several occasions.  Eventually, he agreed to throw some business her way.  After handling a few matters for him, she started suggesting that he should bring legal in house.  She again utilized her network to pitch the same idea to him from different angles.  After awhile, he began to think he needed in house counsel and asked her to join the team as the company's first general counsel.  She now leads up a team of several attorneys and support staff and absolutely loves her job.  This is an example of how targeted networking can get you where you want to be, before they even now they want you.

In another, attorney K Royal got her current job because of a network she didn't even know she was creating.  She says, "The law recruiter noticed my resume' out of the hundreds of applicants because I worked at Concentra. He knew my former chief counsel there, who had left after the merger with Humana. He contacted Mark (former chief counsel) who gave me rave reviews, so the recruiter called me for an interview. And all of that happened without my knowledge. And here I am, first in house privacy counsel, global scope, silicon valley -and I have never really practiced law. "  In K's case, the positive impression she made on her former chief counsel translated into a concrete job lead.  All this without even trying to network.

Networking can have benefits for your employer as well.  While I was at Go Daddy, the entire legal team was encouraged to do as many networking and social events as we could.  We were told to represent Go Daddy well and not to embarrass Christine (our General Counsel).  As a new lawyer, freshly out of law school and a rather shy individual, the thought of networking was the most dreaded part of my day.  However, it was a requirement so I did it.  Over time, it wasn't so horrible.  I found that if I thought of it as making new friends instead of building a network, I actually enjoyed myself.  It helped me to gain some confidence in myself and my ability to successfully represent my client.  When I first started working at Go Daddy, I was a mouse that didn't speak up unless spoken to and had mini-panic attacks when an executive directly asked me a question.  By the time I left, I had the confidence to know that I actually am good at my job and that executives are just people with fancy titles.  The confidence I gained while networking made me a better lawyer.  It also exposed many people who had never heard of Go Daddy to the company, resulting in numerous new customers and a few bigger deals.  All that as a first/second year staff attorney.  The networking that Christine did on behalf of Go Daddy helped create a legitimacy for Go Daddy that translated into Go Daddy being seen as an expert in the internet industry, often being asked to weigh in on regulations and new law.

Networking can be a valuable tool for you and your employer, if you use it right.   Have an example of how networking has helped your career or tips on making networking more fun and less work?  Share it in the comments.  Next time we'll talk about some techniques that will help to translate networking into results.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Practicing Law Like its Kindergarten

I spent Saturday at “Kindergarten Camp”, a day for the school to show the incoming “kinders” and their parents what kindergarten will be like.  Going into the school cafeteria, I was struck by a feeling of melancholy.  I remembered how much fun elementary school was; before the hormones started in and kids sectioned off into ‘popular’ and ‘not’ groups. I’m excited for my son to experience the joy of school as well.  I kind of miss it.  As I do with most things, I started thinking of what life would be like if the practice of law was more like elementary school (and of course, I need a topic for today’s post…).

Some things don’t translate.  One of the best parts of kindergarten is the lack of real responsibility.  Sure, you have to worry about getting good grades, but if you have a bad day no one loses hundreds of thousands of dollars or worse yet ends up in jail. 

But there are plenty of things that could be applied, like – “Be Nice to Your Neighbor”.  This command was plastered on the walls of Z’s classroom.  How nice it would be if lawyers, and business people, remembered that we’re all citizens of the world, and it’s a very small world.  It pays to be nice even when in a conflict or dispute.  The practice would be much more enjoyable if we remembered to be nice to our neighbors.

“Learning is fun” was another lesson that was reiterated over and over again, especially to the parents.  And they are right; growing your skill set can be fun.  Learning new things and expanding your mind for the sake of learning is very enriching.  We tend to focus on the immediate need.  Especially in house, we get stuck in a rut and don’t take the time to go out of our comfort zone unless forced to by external events.  I’d love to learn more about structured finance and the land of derivatives.  An area that has had such a huge impact on our economy is definitely worth exploring more.  I have absolutely no need to do so for professional or personal reasons, so I haven’t. 

Maybe the thing I miss most from kindergarten is recess.  While we may not need a couple of breaks each day to run around on the playground like crazy people, even grown-ups need a break.  With today’s technology it’s too easy to answer those emails, make those calls, attend those meetings and work remotely even when on vacation.  I actually can’t remember the last vacation I took that I didn’t work an average of at least 2 hours a day.  I even worked while on maternity leave with all of my children, while with 3 different employers.  The thing is that in most cases, it’s not the employer that is demanding this dedication to work.  We’re doing this to ourselves.  Maybe we need to take a moment to remember kindergarten and how much easier that math problem was after recess than it was before. 

My challenge this week, practice law like it is kindergarten and see if it can be as fun as it was back then.  Any other lessons we can take from elementary?  Leave them in the comments.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

4 Myths About Working In House

When I talk to firm lawyers or law students I'm often struck by how little they know about how the practice of law works for in house lawyers.  Like many jobs there are some prevalent misconceptions, ones that may hurt your chances of ever getting hired in house if you're not careful.  So as my PSA for the week, here are 4 myths about working in house.

4.  Myth:  No more billable hours.  Partly true, but mostly false.  While in house lawyers don't have  pressure to meet some arbitrary billable hour minimum in order to make their bonus or get promoted, we do still track our time.  Depending on the company you will have to track the time on each matter in order to allocate resources to various departments or affiliates for budgeting purposes or you may have to do daily or weekly "status reports", which in form your superiors of what you're spending your time on.  These can be more frustrating than billables, because while you don't have to reach a minimum you do have to account for your time in a way that shows your value to the company to people who often have no clue what lawyers do or how they do it.  Tell a hiring manager that you want to make the jump to in house for a better "work life balance" or to get rid of billables and your shooting yourself in the foot.

3.  Myth:  In house lawyers don't know as much about the law as firm lawyers.  Again, partly true, but mostly false.  In a law firm, you have the luxury of specializing.  Often the more you specialize the more valuable you become, because you're the "go to" for a particular issue.  In house, even when legal roles are specialized you are a generalist in that area.  An in house employment lawyer must know, at a minimum, the basic of employment law (wage and hour, FMLA, discrimination, etc), labor law (at least keeping tabs on the NLRB's latest), ERISA and litigation management.  But when she needs outside help, she hires a litigator, a labor lawyer or an ERISA specialist.  Her knowledge in any of these areas is going to be more shallow than the outside lawyer, which leads to the impression that in house lawyers don't know as much about the law.  But she'll know more about ERISA than a litigator and will know more about drafting pleadings than an ERISA lawyer.

2.  Myth:  All in house lawyers do is manage outside counsel who do all the real work.  As a firm lawyer working for corporate clients you are often working for in house lawyers.  This does two things, first it gives the impression that in house lawyers just run interference with the business guys and two, it allows us to run interference with the business guys.  Trust me when I say that you'd rather work for me than for them.  I set expectations for budget, results, methodology, etc. so that you don't have to deal with very unreasonable demands.  I also have to keep you on track to manage to those expectations that I've set.  While trying to keep costs down, I work to coordinate the internal efforts of gathering the information and resources you need to do what we've asked you to do.  And then I get to do my day job.  Most in house law departments will do 75-80% of the legal work for the company.  That means for every contract we send out to be negotiated by a firm, I do 20 or 30 in house.  For every litigation matter we send out, I've settled, negotiated or gotten us out of 3 or 4.  And that doesn't begin to touch the daily "what about" questions that come in asking for general legal advice.  I'd be very happy although probably bored if all I did was manage outside counsel.  Of course, it would also probably lower my firm costs because I'd have more time to tell you why billing .9 hours for reviewing and answering that email is ridiculous and why I absolutely will not pay for any line item that says "attention to".

1.  And the number one myth:  Lawyers go in house that can't or don't want to make it in big law.  It's easier, in house lawyers don't work as hard or as many hours as their law firm counterparts.  False!  While it's true that in house lawyers don't regularly put in 100 hour weeks, the do still happen. It always amuses me when my firm friends comment on how lucky I am to work in house so I don't have to work the crazy hours and then go on their second or third vacation of the year the week after the trial is over.  I don't regularly work 100 hour weeks.  It's generally more like 55-60, with the occasional spikes of 70+ when things are getting busy.  But it's consistent.  There aren't "slow times" when I can take the family on vacation.  Like every other employee, I get 2 or 3 weeks vacation time.  And I'm usually working remotely while on vacation.  I finalized a settlement 2 hours after my second son was born.  And negotiated a renewal of our insurance policies the week after my third son was born.  In house work is hard, it's constant and often under appreciated by both the business people who you work for and who don't understand what is involved in your daily job and your counterparts in the legal community who think you've taken the easy road to practicing law.

Heard any other rumors you want confirmation for?  In house compatriots have any other rumors you'd like debunked?  Leave them in the comments.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Working for Women

Last week there was some interesting articles about how the number of women GC's in the Fortune 500 had grown, which as it often does led to a number of articles about how women lead differently than men.  Which, in turn, led the commentariat to either shout out about how women are better than men, women are the same as men and the odd neanderthal here or there lending their opinion that women belong at home taking care of the babies.  I find the direction the conversation goes whenever women leaders is mentioned to be both sad and humorous.

In my purely non-scientific, anecdotal experience, I like working for strong women best - and weak women least, with strong and weak men sandwiched in between.  While this is my preference, I don't pretend that it would work for everyone.  I like strong female leaders because they tend to have the best characteristics of strong male leaders (great business acumen, charismatic, forward thinking, decisive, etc.) and a flavor of more traditionally female traits (nurturing, caring, wanting to invest in future generations, etc.). Because of that they make great mentors.

Strong female leaders across all industries tend to take more time to develop the talent working for them.  Not by coddling, but by challenging and providing learning opportunities.  They tend to play the office politics/business politics better.  So well, that you rarely know they're playing until after the game is over and they've won.  They tend to be more open to ideas other than their own, and more willing to share credit when the idea succeeds.  Of course, they'll throw you under the bus in a heart beat if you're incompetent or worse, wasting your talent.

None of this is to say that men couldn't be just as effective.  Some are.  Men tend to say they are all business and don't want to let the politics of "feelings" get in the way of profits.  In reality, men bring just as much drama to the table, sometimes more.  But their general refusal to acknowledge it makes it much more disruptive.  A strong male leader will also take the time to mentor or build the talent under them, but most do it with the intention of bettering their own circumstance.  It's a subtle difference, but one that changes the skills and benefits that the mentored get out of the relationship.  Rather than identifying a weakness in the mentored, and helping them build on it, male leaders tend to identify people with raw talent in the areas that the leader is weak and help them build upon it.

Any strong leader can get good results, and one is lucky to work for either type of leader.   The rest is personal preference, and personally I favor "Girl Power".  However, now that I'm the mother of three boys, I'm always looking for ways of developing strong leadership skills in them that transcends gender.  Any advice on that front is always appreciated.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Trust. Also known as the In House Counsel Killer.

So you've graduated top of your class (or near top) from a top law school.  You've worked for a few years in big law and have consistently been held out as a star performer.  For whatever reason, you think you'd like to move in house so you set up some interviews and you blow them away.  Of course you get the job.  Now you're already planning your career succession to make GC in the next 5 years.

Unfortunately, six months into it, you're no longer a star performer.  You constantly butt heads with your internal clients and you struggle with the office politics.  You can't understand why they don't listen to you and do as you advise.  You find yourself shut out of important meetings, only to be brought in when something starts to go wrong.

At first you'll blame the business people.  They're unsophisticated, they don't understand what the consequences of not listening to you are, they're prejudiced against attorneys, etc.  You never had this problem in private practice.  Everyone knew how good you were and sought you out for your expertise.  No one questioned, no one challenged.  These people are just impossible.  And some of that might be true.  But that's not the whole story.  You did not gain their trust.  And without trust, you are useless.  No matter matter how smart you are, or how right you always are.  If your business people don't trust you - you're sunk.

Gaining trust is difficult, especially with a team that hasn't worked with many attorneys before.  It may be that they've got preconceived ideas of attorney's being distrustful (ambulance chasers) or roadblocks to progress (hall monitors).  They will test you early and often to see how far they can push you.  In the name of "teamwork" they will push you past your comfort zone to see if you are a roadblock.  They will bring you questionable issues to see how flexible you are.  You will hear, "there is no black and white, only a lot of grey" a lot.  It is expected that you help them navigate the grey.  Of course if you are too risk averse you fail the test.  And if you are too liberal, you fail the test.   The trick here is to ask a ton of questions in the first few weeks.  Create a risk profile for each major internal client.  Assess which ones will want to operate in the "grey" and which will want to be clearly black and white.  While you're advice shouldn't change drastically - after all, the law is the law, the way you deliver it should.  "Grey" types want to hear a legitimate risk assessment of the issue, i.e. 'If we do what you're asking these three things may become issues.  The likelihood of each is X, the cost of X is Y.  (and here's the important part...) My recommendation is we do what you want but make Z modification to minimize the risk.' Black and White types will want a simple yes or no.  Sometimes, even giving an explanation of why will turn them off and turn you into a "know it all".

Even if you pass the initial test and gain their trust, you can lose it with one bad experience.  Give an answer that makes someone's life a little more difficult and you'll lose trust points.  Suddenly, you're no longer on their side.  Sometimes in house practice is a lot of "us vs. them", even within a company.  It's a very valuable skill to learn how to be Switzerland.  If that's not possible, then you'll need to figure out who the internal power brokers are and make sure that you're on their team.  If you lose trust, you'll need to have some honest conversations with members of the team and yourself.  Is it possible to get it back?  If not, you need to start looking for a new job.  Without the trust of ALL of your internal clients, the distrust will spread like a virus and sooner or later you will find that for the first time in your life you failed.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It Won't Bite, So Go Ahead and Tweet.

Last week Inside Counsel did a great piece on how in-house lawyers are using social media. I've done my own shilling of social media on this blog.  So in house lawyers get it.  Social media is a here to stay and can help connect us to colleagues, employees, potential employers and other interesting people.  It serves as a valuable resource when researching an issue, a firm, or outside attorneys.  So why don't firm lawyers get this yet?

I spent the later part of last week at a patent litigation CLE.  The organizers asked participants to tweet about it using the hashtag #TBCLEPatent.  And you know how many did?  One.  Me.  In a room full of lawyers, not a one of them used social media to promote their interacting with each other or the distinguished speakers, which included several judges that are extremely relevant to the patent litigation world.  Opportunity missed to promote yourself to those in house attorneys who use social media to check up on outside counsel.

I went to this CLE because my employer has had recent patent litigation issues.  When evaluating the proposals from almost a dozen very well respected firms, my CEO looked every partner and associate up on LinkedIn, and used those profiles or lack thereof to form opinions on them.  At least half of them didn't have profiles.  Of those that did, they were either carbon copies of their firm profiles or the bare minimum required for a LinkedIn profile.  It didn't give any information that would market them to a social media savvy client like my CEO.  But why not?  Another opportunity missed to promote yourself to the CEO making the decision on to whom he wants to hand a high value case to.

I understand that to be active on social media can be scary for firm lawyers.  You don't want to expose yourself in a way that may turn off some potential clients.  On all things controversial or quasi controversial, you need to appear as neutral as possible so as to protect against a potential client making a hasty decision on your skills based on whether you like the Giants or the Yankees.  But what you don't get is that you're turning off clients by not having a social presence.  And resist as you might, this is only going to get more prevalent.  When selecting outside counsel I will read your firm bio, and sometimes I'll flip through the marketing material your firm sends me.  But more often than not, I'll Google you, look at your LinkedIn Profile and see if you're active on Twitter.  If all I see is static information that's rarely updated or firm promoted press releases I'm not learning anything about you.  Take the opportunity to market yourself.  Show me that you can keep up with my fast paced technology filled world, able to connect with my Gen X, Y and Millennial workforce while maintaining professionalism and getting good results and you'll go on my short list for who I'll hire.  And my short list for who I'll recommend.  So go ahead and make your online presence known, I promise if you use it wisely it won't bite.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning About Patents or Watching the Olympics?

I'm taking a break from the Olympics and my new love affair with John Orozco (he reminds me of my oldest, so I'm considering formally adopting him...)  I'm in a exciting Patent Litigation CLE in Dallas.  I'm expecting to be riveted to each and every word. Just in case you aren't picking up on it, that should be read with a little bit of sarcasm.  If you happen to be in the room, stop by and say hi - I'm in the back row.

While I have tons of respect for my colleagues who practice patent law, it's one area that I've only touched from a managing outside counsel point of view.  I really have no interest in patent law on a personal level.  However, patents and patent litigation are becoming more important for both offense and defense reasons for tech companies.  Because of that, I'm taking this opportunity to  become more familiar with the nuances of patent litigation.

Which is something that all in house counsel should do.  Whether or not you have pending litigation or trolls knocking on your door, knowing the basics of complex areas like patent law and patent litigation is an absolute requirement for small department in house counsel.  Even if your team is segregated by functionality, you may be the only one in the office when a troll sends a demand letter to your company's customer.  Or, worst case scenario, your company gets named in a patent infringement suit and it suddenly becomes all hands on deck for bet-the-company litigation.  Knowing the basics will give you the information you need to be able to make the quick calls, and will better enable you to manage outside counsel.  If you know nothing about patent litigation, then how can you evaluate your outside counsel's opinion to file a Bilsky motion or recommendation to file for a declaratory judgment in advance of the patent owner filing in their choice of forum?  Either option could cost several hundred thousand dollars in outside counsel fees.  Are you ready to gamble that much without any basis for evaluating the recommendation?

So as much as I'd much rather be watching Phelps take on Lochte today, I'll be learning about patent litigation.  Maybe next year, I'll see more of my in house brethren here instead of a sea of firm lawyers.