john grisham

We are In-House Lawyers - Ask Us Anything

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Oh hey I just saw that movie, Chris Pine was great, Keira Knightley seemed strange without the accent though

Ha!

 

I assure you that day to day this place is more like Jack Sparrow and his crew than Jack Ryan and his.

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Many large companies have in house tax groups. My own experience is that they tend not to be part of the in house legal team but part of a multi discipline tax team.

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Anyone work in house as a labour/employment lawyer? Are those positions rare?

 

Unions will often have their own lawyers.

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Anyone work in house as a labour/employment lawyer? Are those positions rare?

 

Depends on a few factors.  First, are you tied only to management side or union side?  Second, are you interested, willing, and demonstrably capable of doing both labour and employment?  It is easier to find in house employment jobs than labour simply since in house labour jobs are pretty constrained to public sector employers.

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In-house pure labour and employment law jobs aren't exactly rare, but there are not a huge amount of them. You'd be looking at the big employers with thousands of employees (lots of employment litigation and HR type stuff to occupy someone because of the sheer number of employees), or smaller ones with a heavily unionized workforce (grievances and bargaining to occupy someone). Most companies in Canada wouldn't have enough pure employment and labour work to occupy someone full time, and so that stuff is overseen by other lawyers who farm it out if necessary.

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Jaggers speaks truths. 

 

One of the live issues where I'm at right now is the selection and management of external counsel. I've heard several of the more senior lawyers express that their job is much less law and much more managing and distributing files. That may be unique to my company in its current state, but I'd love it if anybody who's currently in-house could share their thoughts on:

 

a) the selection process: how does your company pick who to use on a matter-to-matter or practice area basis; and

b) things successful external counsel provide that are 

      i) mission-critical 

      ii) nice-to-haves

      iii) areas many external counsel could look to improve; and

      iv) pet peeves

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I, too, would love answers to those questions.

 

And if you're a significant corporation, there's just no way a young lawyer is going to pirate away some of your smaller files, is there?  (Pretty please?)  :)

 

Seems to me that if I was running a large corporation's legal spend, I'd package up all my smallish files and hand them over in a bundle to a reputable partner at a firm I'm interested in testing out.  Here, take five $200,000 cases and prove to me you can handle a $1M case. 

 

I've come to the conclusion there's no point soliciting work from in-house counsel as a junior litigator on that basis.  Even if I would treat those files like Faberge eggs, it probably wouldn't be worth the increased administration cost of having a couple of rogue juniors out there handling small litigation files when you can just fire all 28 of them off to BLG and have a single point of contact.  Sure, maybe I don't invest in someone that might one day be a relationship partner that grew up knowing my business.  But I can just insist on getting that level of service from the partner at BLG, right? 

 

Here's what I've been wondering for the past year or so:

 

1) Is there ever any reason why you would assign any legal work to an associate or junior partner directly, either barrister or solicitor-side?  Or is it just easier and more efficient to go with an established partner that is a known quantity and work with(/lure away) the associates under her? 

 

2) It must get incredibly tedious socializing with exterior counsel knowing that all of them are planning on making an ask for legal work at some point in the future.  How do you stomach it?  How can a service provider get/stay in the loop with your client without becoming annoying? 

 

3) Since you socialize in an unguarded way with other in-house personnel more than we can, what advice would you give to those of us just starting to build our book of business?  Chase startups?  Do a secondment with you? 

 

It seems to me that in this age of closer bill scrutiny and RFPs, the old advice given to Biglaw associates to focus on learning the business of our institutional clients with an eye to "inheriting" them is no longer apt.  Once your relationship partner goes, there's a good chance you're gone too --- and for good cause.  Why keep your important business with a 37-year-old junior partner that's been working with you off and on for ten years when you can pick another senior superstar elsewhere at an introductory discount, then just come back if that doesn't work out?  Heck, why not hire that junior partner in-house?  You're under so much pressure to keep costs down that "they know our business" seems a flimsy and unquantifiable way to demonstrate that you're doing your job effectively.  From my perspective it seems like the best --- or maybe the only --- way for a young-ish lawyer to make a connection with an established corporate client in this day and age is to have a killer RFP PowerPoint and a ruthlessly efficient menu of alternative fee arrangements.  Thoughts?

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Jaggers speaks truths. 

 

One of the live issues where I'm at right now is the selection and management of external counsel. I've heard several of the more senior lawyers express that their job is much less law and much more managing and distributing files. That may be unique to my company in its current state, but I'd love it if anybody who's currently in-house could share their thoughts on:

 

a) the selection process: how does your company pick who to use on a matter-to-matter or practice area basis; and

b) things successful external counsel provide that are 

      i) mission-critical 

      ii) nice-to-haves

      iii) areas many external counsel could look to improve; and

      iv) pet peeves

 

(a)  I hire external counsel based on the specific lawyer and his/her reputation, not the law firm.

(b) Understand what I'm looking for (and ask if it's not clear), be efficient, and don't be a jerk.  Constant communication on where things are at (and exercise some serious judgement before billing me for keeping me updated on status of things).

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Here's what I've been wondering for the past year or so:

 

1) Is there ever any reason why you would assign any legal work to an associate or junior partner directly, either barrister or solicitor-side?  Or is it just easier and more efficient to go with an established partner that is a known quantity and work with(/lure away) the associates under her? 

 

2) It must get incredibly tedious socializing with exterior counsel knowing that all of them are planning on making an ask for legal work at some point in the future.  How do you stomach it?  How can a service provider get/stay in the loop with your client without becoming annoying? 

 

3) Since you socialize in an unguarded way with other in-house personnel more than we can, what advice would you give to those of us just starting to build our book of business?  Chase startups?  Do a secondment with you? 

 

 

Caveat - I have enough bench strength that I rely very, very little on external counsel for day to day stuff.  Things are thrown over that either require a specialty that I don't necessarily have on the bench or because of internal workloads.

 

1)  Always have the associate/junior partner doing 99% of the work, since the 80/20 rule will always apply.  Most legal work doesn't really need to be done by the $1000/hour partner.  It just doesn't.  Like, really just doesn't.  Especially when it's my job to make sure the file is going the right way to achieve my objectives.

 

2) Meh.  If you get along with whomever is trying to pitch you then it's not too much of a task.  I'm quite open and honest with counsel that my need for external counsel is limited and specific.  Frankly, I'd expect anyone who is trying to pitch me to understand that to begin with if they've done their homework.

 

3) Unfortunately I'm not much help here, other than to say that doing good work and building a solid reputation will eventually lead to clients calling you rather than you needing to chase after them.  And the in house counsel bar, and the bar generally, does speak amongst itself as to who is "good" and who is "OMG don't even think of calling him/her/it"

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Hi there,

 

I’d appreciate the input of those currently practicing as in-house counsel. I’m thinking of accepting an articling offer at a medium sized company (about 200 employees). Their focus is on the insurance, finance and tech. Their legal department is small about 3-4 lawyers but the company has been growing rapidly over the last few years (although company is about 30 years old). I’ve been told that I’ll be exposed to a wide range of legal and business work and that they are looking to hire someone for the long term, not just for the duration of articles. I’ve done my research and in-house counsel really interests me. I worked in a law firm during law school and it wasn’t my thing. So, I don’t mind skipping traditional law firm training for my articles if it means that I can have a meaningful career as an in-house lawyer.

 

Therefore, my question is: by accepting this position and potentially working there for about 5 years, will I be marketable to other (potentially larger) companies? I’m worried that since it’s a smaller company, potential employers won’t hire me. My resume might highlight some good experiences after working there, but the company I will have worked for might not carry that much weight (but who knows it might actually grow significantly and become a 1000+ shop by the time I want to leave).

 

Thanks

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Do it. Grab every different kind of work you can and try get as much hands on experience (eg avoid becoming a memo monkey) as you can. Experience is experience is experience. And you'll likely get more of it at a smaller shop.

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I think you're right to flag the potential risk of working at a smaller in-house department. If you find yourself out looking, hiring managers at other companies might not view you as being on the same level as someone from a large company or firm, because they just don't know the level of the work coming out of your department. You can go a ways towards mitigating that: last a few years in the position, keep an eye to the marketability of your practice (ie. corporate/commercial/secretarial >>> almost anything else you might do in-house, at least on the marketability scale), and cultivate contacts with external counsel and through other in-house associations, etc. 

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Hi there,

 

I’d appreciate the input of those currently practicing as in-house counsel. I’m thinking of accepting an articling offer at a medium sized company (about 200 employees). Their focus is on the insurance, finance and tech. Their legal department is small about 3-4 lawyers but the company has been growing rapidly over the last few years (although company is about 30 years old). I’ve been told that I’ll be exposed to a wide range of legal and business work and that they are looking to hire someone for the long term, not just for the duration of articles. I’ve done my research and in-house counsel really interests me. I worked in a law firm during law school and it wasn’t my thing. So, I don’t mind skipping traditional law firm training for my articles if it means that I can have a meaningful career as an in-house lawyer.

 

Therefore, my question is: by accepting this position and potentially working there for about 5 years, will I be marketable to other (potentially larger) companies? I’m worried that since it’s a smaller company, potential employers won’t hire me. My resume might highlight some good experiences after working there, but the company I will have worked for might not carry that much weight (but who knows it might actually grow significantly and become a 1000+ shop by the time I want to leave).

 

Thanks

After 5 years of in-house experience (regardless of the size of the company) you'll likely be in pretty good shape on the marketability side. Being a good in-house lawyer is a unique skill set (very distinct from private practice) so if you can show that you've done it for many years then you'll likely be seen as desirable by some in-house groups. Your closest competition from the private practice side will be lawyers who are very good at what they do (likely a thin slice of the law) but won't have any idea what it means to be a good in-house lawyer. I would expect you to have a bit of a leg up - all else being equal.

 

But more importantly, don't discount the potentially massive benefits to joining a small but growing company. You'll be getting in close to the ground floor and as the company grows so too (likely) will the legal group. You'll be a in a good position to get some title bumps - which will also help you quite a bit down the road. I'd be excited if I was you.

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Being a good in-house lawyer is a unique skill set (very distinct from private practice) so if you can show that you've done it for many years then you'll likely be seen as desirable by some in-house groups.

 

Mind elaborating on this a bit? I'd be interested to hear what particular skills are useful as a in-house lawyer, that may not hold true for a lawyer in private practice.

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Mind elaborating on this a bit? I'd be interested to hear what particular skills are useful as a in-house lawyer, that may not hold true for a lawyer in private practice.

 

 I am not an in-house lawyer.  However, I would think that those who are would need to be more concerned with the practical (i.e. business implications) of their legal advice and learn how to marry those two perspectives together. 

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Inspired by another thread, I thought I'd start this thread for people to ask any questions they may have about being an in-house lawyer.  There's at least a few of us in-house (one with quite a bit of experience) so ask away.  

Since you moved in-house after only 2 years of practice, how important were your grades in the decision that led to your hiring?

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Since you moved in-house after only 2 years of practice, how important were your grades in the decision that led to your hiring?

Grades never came up. I think that my current employers probably figured if my grades were good enough to get a job at the firm I was working at then they probably didn't need to worry about them.

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