Ten Things: Cool Tech for In-House Counsel (2021 Edition)

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.[1] 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:

(more…)

Ten Things: A “New to the Job” In-House Counsel Reading List

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:

(more…)

Ten Things: Making Contracts Easier to Sign

I have been drafting contracts for a long time and I have written about them a lot in this blog, including posts on boilerplate clauses, how to create a contract playbook, and how to read a contract.  Looking back, I see that I have never shared my three core goals of contract drafting: 1) clarity (anyone can understand the deal); 2) get what you need vs. what you want (there is a big difference), and; 3) “quick” signatures (i.e., a short time frame from the start of the process to signature).  As in-house lawyers (or any type of lawyer for that matter), we often seem to do everything in our power to undermine these goals, primarily by producing or enabling, clunky, unbalanced, unreadable, overly-long documents that end up awash in redlines from the other side.  This, in turn, frustrates the business (along with the lawyers).  And it takes forever to get to signature, so everyone involved in the process is miserable longer.  That said, I understand that sometimes it cannot be helped.  Despite our best intentions, we may be dealing with a true Luddite on the other side of the table and they simply refuse to work the contracting process in a way that makes it easier for both sides, i.e., finding security in standing firm on Latin phrases, redundant wording, and complex sentences that require a residency at Bletchley Park to decipher.

Still, we can and should do better by the business with contracts.  If you agree with me that the highest and best value the legal department can provide is getting good contracts done faster, then in-house lawyers are likely not devoting enough time to making their contracts easier to sign.  Below are some things I have used over the years to try to correct this problem.  These are generally not for boilerplate terms used in consumer-facing user agreements on your company’s website or for simple SaaS contracts where a software provider requires that everyone sign-up for the same thing.  Rather, these tips are for business-to-business deals, where there will be lawyers representing both parties. This edition of “Ten Things” shares my ideas for making contracts easier to sign:

(more…)

Ten Things: How In-House Lawyers Can Reduce Stress (in an Overly Stressful Job)

Throughout my legal career, I have been pretty fortunate when it comes to good health, both physically and mentally.  I have a knack for managing deadlines and have always been able to crank out work pretty much as needed.  Still, like everyone, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the weight of what is on my plate. And, the higher up you are on the food chain, the more pressing the weight becomes as more and more people rely on you to come through (e.g., your team, fellow employees/clients, senior management, the board of directors, shareholders).  It can be a lot of pressure, which is just another word for stress.  For me, stress usually manifested itself in clenching my jaw (which required that I wear a splint) or migraine headaches.  The latter I can say without hesitation truly suck.  I know I am not alone, especially in the legal profession, as lawyers typically are more susceptible to stress and depression than most any other field.  The work and deadlines take their toll not only on the lawyer, but on their family as well.

Why am I focusing on all of this unpleasantness you ask?  Because I just realized that May is now mental health month.  And while Hallmark has not taken over the festivities (yet), it is an excellent time to take stock of our own mental health and, for in-house lawyers, that of the legal department as a whole.  Over the years, I have learned some things about preserving my mental health in an incredibly stressful job.  Most of the time I just sucked it up and kept any issues to myself, I realize now that that is exactly the wrong type of behavior.  I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.  But, this edition of “Ten Things” discusses some ways in-house lawyers can reduce stress with things I have done and still do, as well as things I wish I had done (or done more of). I’ll try not to get preachy, and I hope there are a few things here that will help you deal with the massive amount of crap that comes over the transom every day in the in-house world; a world where there is never enough money, time, or manpower to do the job:

(more…)

Ten Things: Legal Departments and the Value of Huddle Meetings

I’ll start this post by saying it is both awesome and (somewhat) dispiriting to have to follow the last “Ten Things” blog post, i.e., Talia Jarvis’ guest post on what you need to know as a woman in-house lawyer.  I feel like the Rolling Stones agreeing to follow James Brown at the 1964 T.A.M.I. awards.  If you don’t know what happened, let’s just say Mr. Brown blew the Stones off the stage with his act. [1]  So, here I am trying to follow her fantastic post – and what have I got for you?  Umm, let’s talk about meetings! Yay! Yeah, I know. Definitely feels like a B-side. Damn.  I never imagined it would suck to be Mick Jagger.

One thing I have written a lot about is all of the meetings that in-house lawyers attend. Sometimes, I think I spent at least half of my in-house career in meetings.  Having sat in meetings, run meetings, avoided meetings, been bored to death in meetings, tried to crawl out the door at meetings, I feel I have a pretty good perspective on the issue.  In past editions of “Ten Things,” I have written about how to hold more effective staff meetings, hosting offsite meetings, 1:1 meetings, and even how to escape meeting hell (a favorite pastime of mine). Today I want to talk about rethinking the base-type of meetings in-house legal departments hold.  In particular, moving away from long-drawn-out staff meetings and department meetings to something significantly shorter.  There will always be a place for those longer meetings, but something I have become very partial to is the “huddle” (also called a “stand-up” or a “scrum”) meeting.  There is a lot of value you can derive from a huddle meeting, for yourself, for the department, and for the company.  What’s a huddle meeting you ask?  Well, you’re in luck.  This edition of “Ten Things” discusses what you need to know about huddles and how they can benefit you and your legal department:

(more…)

Ten Things: What You Need to Know as a Woman In-House Lawyer

In seven years of writing this blog, I have turned down all offers of a guest post.  Nothing personal, I have always wanted “Ten Things” to just be my thoughts.  Today, I make an exception.  Why?  Because I think this is an incredibly important topic – one I have wanted to write about but knew I could never pull off.  At its core, blog writing has to ring true and be based on experience or expertise to provide value.  As a middle-aged, white guy, who grew up in Nebraska, I cannot write effectively about this topic.  But my guest writer can.  In fact, she writes the hell out of it.  Still, I can say that I have seen firsthand much of what she sets out and 100% endorse what she is talking about.  So, pay attention.  If you are a woman, take these points to heart.  If you are a man, do the same – maybe more so.  It truly matters.

I have been fortunate enough to work for and with many great female executives, especially lawyers.  I not only admire them for their brains, insights, and work ethic, but for their ability to find a way through the many obstacles that stand in their way, from outright misogyny to dealing with the disproportionate share of child care.   My oldest daughter will start graduate school in the fall and my youngest daughter is at the University of Texas Law School, and I want both to have every opportunity to succeed in the business world on their merits.  I hope they both turn out a lot like Talia whom I have known for a while now and already believe has more insight, ability, and talent than I had when I first became general counsel.  I know you will agree and I hope that you will share this post with everyone you know.

I am excited and pleased that this edition of “Ten Things” discusses what you need to know as a woman in-house lawyer. 

(more…)

Ten Things: Getting Performance Reviews Right

Last year, I wrote about how to get the most out of regular 1:1 meetings; from the viewpoint of the manager and from that of the employee.  Those two posts turned out to be really popular.  I wasn’t surprised by that because I know (from experience) how often those meetings sucked. Not on purpose, but because neither I nor the other person – regardless of which chair I had at the time – really knew what we were supposed to be doing. Fortunately, I figured it out for the most part and was happy to share what I knew in those two posts.  So, let’s now turn our attention to another chronically sucky legal department process, the yearly performance review.  I hear you out there, “Wow, jackass. This would have been great information… last November when we were scheduling reviews!”  True.  It probably would have been.  But, allow me to retort. I say, and as you will see below, that now (March) is the time to start thinking about and preparing for performance reviews.  Actually, you should have started in January.  You’re already behind.  So, there. But, before you riot, unsubscribe, or start driving slowly by my house at night – like those jack-booted goons from the ABA’s publishing division making sure I am busy writing that book[1] – let me explain myself.  Performance reviews are a critical tool in the hands of every manager.  They are even more important in the current forced-remoteness of COVID-19.  Getting them right takes a lot of effort and thoughtful consideration and you cannot wait until the last minute to get started. This edition of “Ten Things” walks you through what you need to do and think about to create truly valuable and useful performance reviews:              (more…)

Ten Things: The Productive Power of “Little Things”

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote in his poem Leviathan that, “Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That is a startling clear sentiment, both powerful and scary… Um, sorry. This has absolutely nothing to do with today’s “Ten Things” post. Just got off on a tangent here.  Let me start over…

I have always been able to get a lot of things done in a day.  I never really thought much about it. I just assumed everyone was the same.  Over time I realized that was not the case.  Everyone has a different ability or capacity to get things done in a day or a week or a month.  I just happened to be really good at it.  I was never really sure why.  I certainly wasn’t the smartest person in the room – though I know now that being smart has little to do with it.  It isn’t because my concentration abilities surpass those of mere mortals.  I get as distracted by things as the next person.  Nope, I could never put my finger on it.  Then a few years back I came upon an interview with time-management author Laura Vanderkam.  She led off with this statement, “Small things done consistently add up to big things.” It was literally as though someone had turned on the lights in the room.  I had not been bitten by a radioactive spider. I had no secret superpower.  I had simply stumbled upon the productive power of “little things!”  This edition of “Ten Things” discusses what this is and how in-house counsel can harness it to get things done:

(more…)

Ten Things: Essential Issues for In-House Counsel (2021 Edition)

Welcome back, everyone!  I hope your holidays were joyful and restful (and COVID-free).  I was able to make a bit of a dent in the next book, so the ABA goons are leaving me alone… for now.  I did have some time to squeeze in the first “Ten Things” blog of 2021.  As usual, and like I did when I was general counsel, I like to start the year by sitting back and just thinking about all the crazy shit going on out there in the world and how it might impact my company and the legal team.  When I was in-house, I would use this exercise to help me plan out the year, set goals, and – most importantly – set some tripwires for starting to measure and balance risks to the organization.  So, I have been reading a lot, talking with in-house lawyers, and generally trying to figure out what’s hot and what’s not.  No surprise but it looks like a lot of last year’s list is still pretty relevant (click here to read the 2020 list).  But, there are definitely some new players on the field.  And, the idea here isn’t to figure out every possible thing that can cause problems or provide opportunity – that’s impossible (See COVID-19 for more details).  Rather, it is about doing your best to find a lens to help you anticipate the problems you can anticipate so that the issues that inevitably come out of nowhere are easier to deal with or do not hurt as much.  In other words, looking ahead to maximize value creation and minimize value destruction.  Also, you should know that my New Year’s resolution for 2021 is to be a bit more pithy with the blog.  We’ll see how long that lasts (maybe not even to the end of this one).  Anyway, let’s start the car and hit the road!  This edition of “Ten Things” takes a look at my predictions of the essential issues for in-house lawyers in 2021:

(more…)

Ten Things: Best Blogs for In-House Lawyers (2020 Edition)

Just like I promised last week, it’s December and time for my annual list of top legal blogs for in-house counsel!  This is one of my favorite “Ten Things” blogs to write because it gives me a chance to recognize some of the best legal writers out there today.  It also means that the year is coming to an end, which in the case of 2020 really cannot happen fast enough.  After this blog posts, I’ll see you again toward the end of January 2021 as I am going to take a few weeks off and focus on my next book which is woefully behind schedule – and the ABA keeps sending its black-clad goons to my house to make sure I get back to work (the ABA is ruthless… and well-armed).  As usual, I will not list any past “winners” but I do encourage you to go back and check those blogs as well – they are all worth your time.[1]  Also, I realized at some point this year that in-house lawyers are truly starting to consume legal information in many different ways other than written blogs.  So, for the first time, I am going to point out some podcasts, LinkedIn writers, and Twitter feeds I think you might like. Which is a great reminder for anyone reading this blog: nothing is stopping you from writing your own blogs, posting LinkedIn commentary, or recording your own podcasts.  If you have something to say, join in.  It’s never been easier to do and your voice is just as important as anyone else’s – and any practical knowledge you can share with others is always welcomed.  With no further sermonizing, here is the “Ten Things” 2020 list of top blogs for in-house lawyers:

(more…)