how to survive in-house

Ten Things: How In-House Lawyers Can Survive and Thrive in Times of Uncertainty and Change

I do a lot of speaking with and presenting to in-house lawyers and legal departments.  It’s something I really enjoy doing because I get to share my “wisdom” with everyone (which is just a fancy word for “oldness”).  By this I mean I have been around a while and have spent most of my working years as an in-house lawyer.  And, like anyone who has completed the solar elliptical as many times as I have, I’ve dealt with a lot of different things as an in-house lawyer – some good, some bad, and some still defying categorization years later.  On the bad side of the continuum, I was there for the first internet tech bubble (and the second), along with the mortgage meltdown crisis.  I was in the travel business right after 9-11.  I have been through natural disasters, multiple layoffs, budget cuts, reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, sales, going private, going public, and all the rest of it.  I oversaw bet the company litigation, where literally the livelihoods of 10,000+ employees depended on my team not losing a piece of litigation.  And most terrifying, I had a front-row seat for the incredibly shitty ending to Game of Thrones.  That is a season of television I can never get back.  Damn you, HBO.  Damn you to hell!  Sorry, I got off on a rant there.  Allow me to (cough) refocus.

So, here we are again.  Things feel shaky with the economy and there is a good bit of unease out there in the business world and, therefore, in the in-house legal departments that serve those businesses.  I wrote about some of it last month in my post on things to watch out for in 2023.  But even more so, over the past few months, I have been consistently asked to talk about/present on how in-house lawyers can succeed in an environment of change and uncertainty.  So much so that a couple of nights ago (as I was NOT watching HBO), I started putting some real thought into the question and realized that I have a lot to say about it (shock!).  So, this edition of “Ten Things” will discuss some of the things in-house lawyers (and legal departments) can do to survive and thrive in times of change and uncertainty:[1]

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Ten Things: Rules All In-House Counsel Should Live By

I was recently interviewed by Mel Scott for her awesome the “Counsel” podcast.[1]  I had a lot of fun talking with her and we chatted a good bit offline before she hit “record.”  Part of that discussion was about how the Ten Things blog got started.  If you bought the first Ten Things book, you know the story from the introduction section.  If you haven’t gotten around to shelling out your hard-earned dough (or better yet, expensing it to the company), the short story is that I was speaking at a legal event in late 2014 and afterward some young in-house lawyers came up to me and started asking me questions about things they should be doing to advance their careers.  Never being one to shy away from handing out some pearls of wisdom, I mentioned several things that came to mind.  All of which they proceeded to write down.  Hmmm, I thought.  If anyone should be writing this stuff down, it should be me!  And that, my friends, is how it all started.  What I don’t talk as much about is that many of the posts come from presentations I made to my various in-house teams, at off-sites, team meetings, small groups, etc.  If there was a projector or a whiteboard, it was time to break things down!

Last week I was cleaning out a bunch of old files on my computer (because that’s how I roll).  I had the television on in the background and one of my favorite movies was playing, Zombieland.  If you have never seen it, please correct that oversight at your first opportunity.  If you have seen it, you know that Jesse Eisenberg’s character, “Columbus,” has a list of rules that he relies on to survive the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Zombieland.  The rules are all tried and true common sense things that will help keep you safe.  Just as Columbus was discussing the merits of “cardio” and the “double-tap,” I came across a document in my files from 2012 – my rules for surviving as an in-house lawyer.  Wow!  Coincidence? Fate? Divine inspiration? I’m not sure.  But, it doesn’t matter – I had found my next blog post!  I remember writing these “Rules” down one night and presenting them to my team at an off-site and looking through them brought back a lot of great memories of all of those fantastic people who I miss every day (some of whom even read this blog on occasion).  Moreover, as I read through the rules I realized a) they are still 100% valid, b) you can see a lot of what became Ten Things posts in these rules, and c) if there is a zombie attack, these are pretty worthless (except maybe for “eat lunch” – if you’re a zombie).

Regardless, this edition of Ten Things will be a little different.  I am simply going to republish my rules as written.  No embellishment, no snarky commentary, no cut off at “10.”  Just a list of rules all in-house counsel can take to heart to survive the apocalyptic wasteland that is the Covid-ridden, murder-hornet-ed, wildfired, election year hell we call 2020.  Ready? Here we go:  (more…)