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.