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.