Thursday, May 31, 2012

Small Law Department Resources

One of the many challenges of being in house is the lack of resources you’re used to having at a law firm.  Having an expert at your fingertips, document banks or even LexisNexis or Westlaw are often out of reach when you join a small law department.  Law departments are often viewed as a cost center by the business.  Even the most accommodating and convincing GC must justify the annual legal budget.  With much of the allocated spend being reserved for potential litigation or other unknown but foreseeable costs, what’s left must be spent wisely.  Dropping a couple of thousand dollars on a research resource that will be used once a quarter isn’t a good ROI.  So then, what does in house counsel do when faced with the need for a resource that isn’t in the budget? Have no fear; there are a ton of free and low cost resources out there. 

First and probably most important is your network.  It’s tempting once you go in house and no longer have the need to develop a book of business to put your head down and just do your job.  But skip those networking events at your own peril – some of the most valuable resources you will find come from your network.  Other in house lawyers who have ‘been there and done that’ may be able to answer your burning question off the top of their heads, and for free!  Cultivate these relationships as they truly are invaluable. 

Mentors also provide great direction.  I’ve written on the topic before, but I can’t overstate the importance of having good mentors to bounce ideas off of.  Or course, this would be for more practical matters than legal opinions – but they can often recommend resources they’ve used that provide a good value.   I know that I rely on my mentors at least once a month, if for no other reason than it’s nice to get reassurance that you’re on the right track.

Professional associations also offer inexpensive CLE’s and resource banks for relatively low annual subscription/membership fees.  One of my favorites is Association of Corporate Counsel.  The online resources are top notch – I can often find templates or other examples of the types of documents I’m looking for as well as training decks for many of the topics I’m interested in.  The CLE offerings are great and range from free to a couple hundred dollars.  The group also helps facilitate your personal network by introducing you to other in house counsel.  I’ve met some of my best friends and most valuable resources through ACC. 

Freebies from law firms looking for your business (or continued business) are also useful, but use these cautiously.  Some law firms will give you quick advice without billing and write it off to client development.  This typically is reserved for answers that can be given within a 5 minute or less phone call.  This also comes with the expectation that should your matter grow or something else come up you will be calling them with the work that pays.  Make sure you clarify whether the call will be billed prior to asking the question.  As tempting as it might be, don’t take advantage of these relationships.  Like everything else in business, you’ll end up paying for it later with higher billables. 
When all else fails, the internet can be extremely useful.  But proceed very carefully.  Remember that anyone can post anything on the internet without actually having a clue as to what they’re writing about.  Only use sources that you trust – established law firm blogs ( for updates on employment and labor law is great),, are some good online resources.  When in doubt, try to get confirmation of the information from a separate source. 

These are just a few of the resources I regularly use, but is clearly not an exhaustive list.  Have something I haven’t mentioned?  Share it in the comments.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Social Media Policies in the Social Media Age

In the shadow of a Facebook IPO, a lot has been written lately about social media policies - How should social media be used by a company, if at all?  What policies need to be in place?  Can we screen candidates Facebook profile?   All of these questions are interesting and great discussions have been had. But one thing is missing, once you’re created and disseminated the perfect social media policy how do you enforce it?  Do you really fire someone for posting on Facebook?  In addition to the obvious questions about whether an employee have a claim for being fired for a tweet; there are other, more practical issues like how to you retain and recruit employees if you’re acting like a big brother over their social media?  And how do you encourage the social media use that’s beneficial to your company while keeping control on use that can be damaging?

I predict this is one of those generational issues that will fade over time.  In the meantime, it must be addressed.  Employees under 30 grew up in the social media age, they’ve been labeled by Nielsen as “Generation C” for “Connected”.  They were the early adopters of Friendster, MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, etc.  Many can’t imagine their lives without tweeting at least daily.  Their main method of communicating with family is over Facebook.  Many of them view it the same as talking with friends on the phone.  ?  It’s extremely personal to them, yet many don’t fully comprehend the permanency of those conversations or how they could be used against them.  And now you, evil lawyer, are telling them they have to watch what they say?  And worse, that you’re going to be watching it? 

You’ll definitely lose employee loyalty and potentially also lose otherwise valuable employees if you’re too draconian about it. It’s a balancing act for the employer that recognizes that happy, loyal employees boost productivity and are good for the bottom line.  So what’s an in house lawyer to do?

My best advice is to educate and don’t stop educating.  Too often we roll out policies without an explanation of why they are what they are.  Sometimes, we hold back this information for good reason.  But with regards to social media, it’s better to err on the side of over informing your employee bases as to the benefits and dangers of social media – both for the company and them personally.  I use real life examples of past employees thinking something they posted was “private” because that’s how they have their settings but the post goes viral because one of their several hundred “friends” thought it was funny and reposted it in another less private forum.  I use examples of Facebook being used by police, insurance agents, and divorce attorneys, and examples of tweets being snapped up by the media for better or worse of the companies involved and the aftermath for their employees.  Making it relatable to the employee is key to getting them to understand that a properly drafted social media policy leaves room for them to share the pictures of their kids (or their crazy Friday night party) without violating the policy but sharing tweets of what they’re working on is a bad idea that will get them disciplined, if not fired. 

For the most part, this has worked for me.  There are still outliers who think any censorship; even self-censorship is bad.  When faced with them, I smile knowing that someday they’re going to regret it – if only when their grandchildren see grandpa doing handstands on a keg in a skirt (you know who you are…)  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Have a question about in house practice? Being a GC at a small company? Balancing work-life obligations? Whatever… we’re here to answer.

I meet regularly with a wonderful group of in house lawyers who also happen to be parents.  We discuss our issues over lunch and offer advice to each other on how to cope with that controller that isn’t quite doing his job or the unit director that doesn’t seem to get the importance of having legal review contracts until a customer calls her out on something and sometimes even how do you make enough cupcakes for the Halloween party on Friday when I’ve got 3 depositions this week?  I find these lunches so helpful with my specific issues and generally it’s just nice to know I’m not alone in my crazy-land of in house practice.  I find them so useful, that I’m willing to share them with you!  If you have a question that we might be able to help with send it in to and we’ll do our best to answer.  We’ll post the question discussion here and maybe the commetariat can chime in and add additional insight.  Disclaimer:  we will not dispense legal advice over the internet – so don’t ask about how to break a specific contract or what cause of action you have to sue an employee.   We will give general direction that you can then investigate further. 

And for those of you dying to know - the HEB on Braker and 183 in Austin has super-yummy cupcakes and a designer that should be on t.v. with some of those designs!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Importance of Mentors

I’ve just recently learned that one of my first mentors is embarking on a new adventure and leaving the position that somewhat defines her in my mind.  Of course I’m extremely happy for her.  Having the ability and the courage to leave the comfort of the status quo to follow other dreams is admirable.  At the same time, I’m saddened by the fact that she and our relationship will be forever changed.  It’s kind of like seeing your parents as people instead of infallible beings. 

At the same time, it helps me realize that I’m growing up too.  When I first met my mentor, I was straight out of law school.  My family is full of teachers and the “worker class”.  While all lovely people, they did little to prepare me for what I would meet in the business world.  I had to learn everything from office etiquette to how to actually be a lawyer.  I was terrified.  The first time the CEO of the company walked into my office and asked me a question I freaked out a little bit.  He was really going to listen to what I had to say?  Didn’t he realize how little I actually know?  Isn’t he going to double check with someone that actually knows what they’re doing?   Thankfully, I actually knew the answer to the question and didn’t look like a complete fool.   It was a memorable experience, one that I’m sure every new grad in any industry can relate to.

Now I regularly meet with the c-levels and have good personal relationships with them.  I’m confident in my answers and know when to say, ‘You need to hear me on this’, and when to say, ‘I don’t know, let’s get someone with the requisite expertise to weigh in.’  A lot of that growth has been due to the invaluable guidance I’ve been given by mentors. 

A true mentor tells the hard truths – you’re not good at this or that.  She helps build your confidence by helping you to be self-aware and reach your potential.  She introduces you to the people and experiences you need.  She expects a lot out of you and doesn’t hold punches when you don’t produce.  She doesn’t just judge your work, she guides you in being better at it – both the technical, how to properly write a brief type and the how you interact in the board room type.  Sometimes you get this from multiple mentors, but the value is the same.  A mentor is someone who has been there and wants to teach you how to get past it too.  A mentor is someone who knows that you have potential to be more, and helps you to see that too.

In today’s world of casual acquaintances and self-absorption, I can count on my hand the number of people who have truly impacted my life and left me a better person for it.  I know that much of my success professionally and personally can be attributed to that impact and for that I am truly grateful.  I know I haven’t done a great job of being a mentor yet.  That’s something I’m working on. In the meantime, I encourage all with the ability to actively mentor someone.  Don’t just take them to lunch now and then.  Become engaged.  Become their resource.  You’ll become a better person for it, and with any luck, so will they.

Monday, May 21, 2012

About me

When I was a little girl, I really wanted to be President of the United States.  That was a big dream for someone whose parents didn’t attend college and whose sisters both dropped out of high school during economically trying times for the family.  But thanks to some encouragement from my favorite Uncle Larry, I put my nose to the grindstone and graduated high school with good grades while maintaining a near-full time job and helping to support the family. 

That was the beginning of a work ethic that has allowed me to go from a sometimes homeless kid to a lawyer at a growing technology company.  Along the way, I realized that I would never be President -largely because I’m too practical, willing to compromise and unwilling to get personal when talking about big policy issues - not to mention, I'm kinda boring with a quirky sense of humor.  With the allure of politics fading, law soon became my new obsession.  So, I went to law school. 

At law school, I quickly figured out that I was not really a ‘firm’ lawyer.  I liked the business side too much.  Even in mock issues and hypotheticals, I identified too much with the clients and became too invested in the outcomes and what it practically meant for the client instead of what it meant for the firm.  So I headed in house at the coolest company I could find.

I’ve been in house ever since and loved every minute of it.  I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing mentors who have taught me how to merge my love of business with my love of law.  I’m blessed to be in a profession where I truly enjoy my job.  I’ve worked for internet companies, big tech companies, small divisions of global powerhouses and small/mid-size private companies.  I’ve lived through tough economic times and reductions and booming growth – each side of the coin presenting its own challenges.  At every stage of my career I’ve learned something new and grown as an employee, a lawyer and a person.  I hope this holds true for the rest of my professional journey.

Along the way I’ve also been blessed with three beautiful boys.  Their arrivals have altered my outlook on life and my work.  Like most working moms, I sometimes struggle with work life balance and mommy guilt.  I’d like to say I’ve got it all worked out, but as soon as I do something will change and I’m out of whack again. 

With this blog, I hope to share my experiences and thoughts on both a professional and personal level and maybe learn something from those who bother taking the time to read it.  Don't expect substantive legal analysis, this is more about the practical side of being in house and dealing with business people.  Drop me a line at Tanya(at)InHouseOutTakes(dot)com to let me know how I’m doing.

And since I'm a lawyer, I have to add the following or I'd by lynched by my colleagues:
This blog represents the thoughts and musings of me, myself and I.