Almost 25 years of in-house legal experience as General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Chief Compliance officer of Marketo, Inc., Sabre Corporation (NASDAQ: SABR) & Travelocity.com. Prior to going in-house, I was an associate at a large St. Louis-based law firm. I serve on several advisory boards and board of directors, have written several books, and consult with corporations and law firms. I am currently CEO and Senior Counsel for Hilgers Graben PLLC (Dallas office). I am available to in-house lawyers and corporate legal departments for CLEs, coaching, consulting, and speaking engagements.
Lawyers, including in-house lawyers, have a well-deserved reputation for over-complicating things. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon. I am standing in the dock next to you, guilty as hell! Still, I have spent time over the course of a long career in the law trying to figure out why this is. Why is it that lawyers make things so hard on themselves and their clients? I think it comes down to this: lawyers hate to be wrong. No, they fear being wrong, coupled with a belief that if you throw enough time, money, and words at a legal problem you can get to the answer or solve the problem. This explains why lawyers write in a way that no mere mortal understands. We have developed an uber-complex grammar structure that mystifies all but those foolhardy enough to plunge into the ocean of words, clauses, commas, “notwithstandings,” triple negatives, subparts, subparts to the subparts, and so on that make up modern-day contracts. Or why our litigation process (in the US) is now largely an exercise in trying to get documents from the other side and prevent the other side from getting your documents and working overtime to get the court to sanction the other side for not giving you documents or for trying to unfairly get your documents, or… well, you get the point.
If you spend any time thinking about it, you begin to see why business leaders appreciate practical lawyers – lawyers who can get things done quickly and who can communicate in ways the business can understand. The issue for in-house lawyers is that both demands tend to cut against all of our training and instincts, i.e., it’s hard! Building “Rube Goldberg” machines is in our DNA. Fortunately, it is possible to learn to be practical. And, while not a hard and fast rule, my experience is that in-house lawyers who are practical in their approach and advice tend to thrive at companies and become sought-after partners to the business. Those who are not, tend to be treated like lepers – feared and shunned. This edition of “Ten Things” brings the cure and discusses how to be a practical in-house lawyer:
Howdy, everyone! Greetings again from Texas. It’s been a while since I last did an index to all of the posts in the “Ten Things” blog. Since the last one (July 2020), we’ve added over 1,300 new subscribers and we are now over 5,400! And we are well into year eight of the blog. All of which just absolutely, positively blows my mind. A huge “thank you” to all the loyal readers out there, especially to those who pass along the blogs to friends, colleagues, and on LinkedIn. That said, I know it can be a pain in the ass to wade through all of the blogs and try to find what you’re looking for. So, for all of you new kids and for you crusty veterans, this index post is long overdue. I may get around to putting an index on the site, but if you saw my desk, you’d realize just how much of a pipe dream that is. I do have a new blog ready to go, but have decided to publish it next month and we’ll put the “act” back into “practical” (man, that sounded way better in my head).
This edition of “Ten Things” sets out – in chronological order – all of the “Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel” blogs, from the November 2014 introduction to last month’s post on building your executive presence in-house. It was fun for me to look back through these. I found a few surprises that made me go “when did I write that?” and “why do I have so much free time?” The first ones are a little rough, but I got better – I think. You be the judge:
When it comes to “executive presence,” I now have the benefit of being older with more than a few gray hairs. As a result, a lot of people (my wife, daughters, and assorted dogs and cats excluded) tend to pay attention to what I say and even seek out my advice. But, it wasn’t always this way. I was a young, clueless in-house lawyer once. I was also self-aware enough to know it. And I knew that at some point in every in-house lawyer’s career, to move up the chain (or show your value), you need to find a way to project executive presence without the help of Father Time. I suspect many in-house lawyers hear this at review time, i.e., “To progress here you need to improve your executive presence” or something along those lines. Unfortunately, that’s usually about the extent of discussion – it was for me. Just some amorphous criticism without clear guidance about what exactly you’re supposed to do next to bag this elusive unicorn. Sadly, there is no class in law school on the topic and you cannot order executive presence from Amazon (at least not in the USA). Instead, it all becomes a weirdly frustrating process of searching for something where you often have no idea where to look or what it looks like. Like searching for truffles in Nebraska. Ironically, you can often look around you and see people that “have it,” i.e., they seem naturally gifted with executive presence – you know it when you see it! But that does most of us little good. The good news is that it is a skill (or, rather, a set of skills) that can be learned and honed over time. This edition of “Ten Things” provides you with a road map to develop the key skills necessary to build your executive presence:
Hello everyone and hello 2022! If you are a long-time reader of the blog, you know that I like to start off January with a list of issues I believe in-house lawyers should pay attention to over the coming year. This is something I did every year as general counsel at several different companies. Basically, I kept tabs on developments, trends, issues (or whatever) that I thought would have the most impact on the legal department over the next 12 months or so. I did this by speaking with in-house lawyers and outside counsel, reading newspapers, blogs, reports, attending conferences, sitting in on meetings within the business, asking business leaders at the company, asking my team what they were seeing, and just generally paying attention to what was going on around me. Once I spotted a potential issue, I looked at it and asked one simple question: How might this affect the company and the legal department? Answering this question meant I had to understand the company’s goals and strategy so I could spot and manage risks (and hone my ability to be a more strategic partner to the business). Of course, it helps to be naturally curious about what is going on around you and be thirsty for information. Information is gold to in-house lawyers (see my post Ten Things In-House Lawyers Should Read Every Day). From there, I made a list of issues and worked them into the goals and activities of the legal department.
In my new book, Showing the Value of the Legal Department, I set out a checklist to help in-house lawyers quickly analyze potential risks (risks being potentially both negative and positive, e.g., taking risks can lead to positive results). Here is a version of that checklist, and it’s a helpful filter when you look at things coming across your desk day in and day out:
Is this a risk that can create or destroy value?
Could this be a game-changer and how so?
Is this something a regulator might care about/criminal?
Could this make customers or vendors happy or upset/litigation?
If it becomes public or goes “badly,” will it damage our reputation?
Is this covered by a specific law or regulations/does it comply? What’s the downside?
What will our competitors do? How should we respond?
Have others had problems or success with this before/lessons already learned?
Could this hurt someone (e.g., physical, safety, environmental mishap, reputation)?
Is this an opportunity for the company and, if so, who needs to know?
It’s not perfect, but it works. You are welcome to use it, create something similar, or laugh at it. Your call. All I know is that it helped me quickly sort through what mattered and what did not. I still use it. But enough background. Time to get on with the show and another year of Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel (pause for very mild applause…). Here is my list of critical issues in-house lawyers should pay attention to and plan against for 2022:
Well, here we are at the end of another year. I hope all of you are having a wonderful holiday season. As usual, I like to take a few minutes every December to reflect back on the year and take stock of where we are with the “Ten Things” blog. It’s been a busy year for me, but I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have published my fifth book, Showing the Value of the Legal Department: More Than Just a Cost Center, I have been a guest on several podcasts (thanks!), I have put on a large number of presentations (live and via webinar), and – of course, I keep cranking out the blog. Somehow, we’ve already started “Ten Things” year number eight! As my mom often asks, “How the hell did that happen?” And I am excited for 2022, with plenty of things to write about for at least one more year. That said, I always love getting (and writing about) suggestions from you, so feel free to send them my way.
As usual, we will end the year with what traditionally has been a post about the ten best legal blogs for in-house counsel. I enjoy finding and reading the work of great writers, especially the up-and-coming “next gen.” They have a lot to say and it’s worth reading! Like last year, I am going to shake things up a bit and add non-traditional bloggers, i.e., podcasts and LinkedIn writers to my list. I am also going to (finally) list my “Top Ten All-Time Hall of Fame Legal Blogs,” just to give some love to blogs I am still reading after many years. Sometimes you just have to reward the wonderfulness of sticking around (right, Boomer?)! So, with no further ado, this edition of “Ten Things” sets out my 2021 list of best blogs (and other media) for in-house counsel:
Back in January, I gave my list of essential issues for in-house counsel to pay attention to in 2021. One of the items I listed was “phishing.” Unfortunately, I was right to highlight it. Phishing has been a hot topic in 2021. More alarming, however, is that phishing’s good buddy ransomware has become an even bigger issue for in-house lawyers. In the first half of 2021, ransomware attacks are up over 148% (with more attacks than the last ten years combined!). The average ransom is now $200,000-$300,000 (with demands now exceeding $10,000,000.00) and businesses are down an average of 21 days whether they pay the ransom or not! I don’t know about you, but being down for three weeks and getting stuck with a $300,000 bill to access my data would be a real problem for most companies. To make matters worse, bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, looking for new ways to gain access to corporate information systems. The good news is that there are things you can do now as in-house counsel to help your company prepare for and limit, or even prevent, a ransomware attack. Proactive in-house counsel is valuable in-house counsel, so taking steps now is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of the legal department. This edition of “Ten Things” walks you through some of the steps you can take to mitigate the damage of a ransomware attack:
As you know, I enjoy getting suggestions for blog topics from you – the readers of the “Ten Things” blog. A few weeks ago I received a note from the general counsel of a small legal department at a relatively new company that was involved in its first material piece of litigation. Yuck. She was a bit lost on how to manage it all and asked if I had any pointers. I did. As someone whose career started as a litigator and who came to the general counsel role through the litigation side (rare), I managed a lot of litigation and I understand how risky, painful and frustrating litigation can be for in-house lawyers. Additionally, if you are not someone who spends a lot of time with litigation, it can be a bear to manage and keep from becoming a runaway time-suck and money pit. I have written about what to do when you first receive a lawsuit, how to explain litigation to the business, and in-house counsel’s role during trial, but I have overlooked a truly important task, i.e., how to manage litigation. This edition of “Ten Things” looks to remedy that oversight. While this post is aimed at those who rarely deal with litigation, I think several of the points will resonate with crusty veterans as well:
Last month, my good friend, Jane McBride, and I presented a CLE to the Texas Bar in-house counsel section on how to “take advantage of opportunity.” I, of course, had my list of ten things and Jane (as an in-house lawyer and ace career coach) brought her usual great ideas to the table as well. The mixture of our ideas was a killer combination and made for an excellent presentation. But, in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to my original list of ten and thinking that list would make a good “Ten Things” blog. Not because there was anything wrong with the combined list, but because my original ten told the story of how I was able to advance my career as an in-house lawyer – from that first day on the job at American Airlines to my last day as general counsel of Marketo (my third time in the general counsel chair). My own personal experience is generally what I like to share with you in this blog. While this post is aimed at those new to or a few years into the in-house counsel life, I think most of the lessons below apply to pretty much anyone at any point in their in-house career. So, let’s get started. This edition of “Ten Things” discusses how in-house lawyers can best take advantage of opportunities to advance their career:
It’s August and that means three things: it’s very hot here in Texas, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have already lost a football game, and it’s time for my annual “Cool Tech” for in-house counsel blog post. As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about the last one. Not so much the first two. Regardless, this is the seventh year in a row where I will be sharing technology and tech-related ideas that can make life easier for in-house counsel (well, at least better). If you want to check out past editions (and I hope you do), you can find them here:
If you have followed this blog and my posts on LinkedIn, then you already know that I am a big believer in the power of technology to improve the capabilities of the legal department and, more importantly, help show the value generated by the legal team. That said, for my annual Cool Tech edition I generally try to discuss technology that is free (or very low cost) and adds immediate value. So, if you are looking for an evaluation of e-billing systems, matter management systems, document management systems, electronic signatures, and so forth, you’re at the wrong movie. If you do want to read about this type of “big tech’ (and all in-house lawyers should), I suggest the annual LawGeex 2021 contract technology buyer’s guide or Deloitte’s technology in the legal department guide. Packed with great information, they are both free! But, for today’s purposes, we’ll stay small and focused, i.e., technology you can buy and start using today, some of which is free. As usual, I received nothing for recommending this technology to you. I just think in-house lawyers will find the technology useful. I also realized as I was writing this that because I am spending so much time working from home (thanks Delta variant), a lot of my suggestions work especially well for your home office. And with that, let’s dig into Cool Tech for In-House Lawyers 2021 Edition:
As you know, I love to get emails and LinkedIn messages from “Ten Things” readers. In particular, when they have ideas for blog topics! Not too long ago, I received a request from someone who was about to take her first general counsel position. She asked me for a list of things she should read when she started her new job (she was moving from a law firm and had never been an in-house lawyer before). Of course, I was happy to oblige. I sent her my list of reading materials along with some other suggestions, but it got me thinking. I have written blogs on things in-house lawyers should read every day and on my list of “non-legal” books all in-house lawyers should read, but I have not tackled the list of things in-house lawyers should read when starting a new job. I did a little digging and I see that there are some great materials on what new general counsel should read, there is nothing out there for the non-general counsel (or at least I couldn’t find it). Still, whether you a brand new to the in-house life, new to a particular in-house job, or a crusty in-house old-timer like me, I think you’ll find something good on the list below, maybe even something you had not thought about as being important. This edition of “Ten Things” sets out my new to the job in-house counsel reading list: