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…)

Ten Things: My Favorite “Ten Things” Blog Posts

Hi everyone!  I hope you are either knee-deep in or getting ready for a wonderful holiday season. I know that I promised that my next post would be the annual best legal blogs edition but I decided to take a short detour (which I get to do because it’s my blog).  I promise that before 2020 is over, I will post the best blogs edition. For today, however, I wanted to take up a question I have gotten repeatedly over the past six years or so of writing this blog: which posts are my personal favorites?  So far, I have been able to nimbly dodge the question, like a Mike Pence press conference.  It’s not that I don’t have favorites (I do) – I’ve just been too lazy to go back through all 128 blogs and pick which ones I like best.  Today, however, I have been waxing a bit nostalgic about the blog and have re-read a number of the older ones and, while doing so, started putting a list together in my head about which ones I would most highly recommend to an in-house lawyer new to the blog.  Rather than keep them in my head (where, trust me, there is plenty of room), I decided to write them down.  It’s not an easy task (making the list that is, the writing down part is pretty easy).  I think they are all interesting and useful, but – like in Animal Farm – some are more interesting and useful than others (and if you have never read Animal Farm – time for you to remedy that oversight pronto).   So, in no particular order, here are my top ten favorite “Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel” blog posts:

(more…)

Ten Things – What Should In-House Counsel Do During Trial?

Trials are rare.  Like wins for the Dallas Cowboys or finding gold on Oak Island (seriously, guys give it up!).  If you have been practicing law long enough you know that most commercial litigation never goes to trial (at least here in the USA). Disputes typically get settled either through mediation or on the eve of trial.  Unfortunately, everyone spends a lot of money and time before that eventuality occurs.  This is why it is important for in-house lawyers to properly explain the litigation process to the business, especially to senior management.[1]  If they know what’s likely to happen, odds are good you won’t get yelled at (well, not yelled at as much). As I have noted before – litigation is a fool’s game.  But, it is a game that every in-house lawyer will likely have to play at least once.  And, despite the cost, the risk, the smell, and the general messiness of it all, every once in a while, cases go to trial.

Pre-Coronavirus, this meant everyone heading down to the courthouse for a good old-fashioned battle royal (that’s American for “melee”). In-house lawyers tagged along, even though they really didn’t have much to do in terms of actually putting on/defending the case.  Still, they do have a role.  A very important one. And when the “Great Pandemic” passes, and the courts reopen, trials will pick back up and in-house lawyers everywhere will need to be prepared in case their company is actually part of an honest to goodness trial.  If you have never been part of the process before, it can be intimidating and a bit scary – and you will likely be unsure just what the hell you should be doing other than staying out of the way.  I have been part of many trials as an in-house lawyer and this edition of “Ten Things” will set out some of the things in-house lawyers should be doing at trial:[2]

(more…)

Ten Things: How to Fire Someone

I am sure that by the title alone you realize there will not be a lot of the usual jokes and funny comments in this edition of the blog.  That’s because there is simply nothing humorous about having to fire someone, probably among the most difficult tasks faced by any in-house lawyer who manages people.  After questions about how to show value, the most frequent question I get from readers is “how do I fire someone?”  Actually, it is usually phrased as “should I fire [someone]?”  My initial thought is that if you have gotten to the point where you, as a manager, are asking these questions, it is not really a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when.”  But, if you want to advance in the legal department, and if you want to become general counsel, it is almost inevitable that at some point in your career you will have to fire someone.  Is it ever fun? No.  Is it stressful? Yes.  Is it ever easy? Usually not (unless someone does something so awful that immediate termination on the spot is the only appropriate response).  I have had these difficult conversations numerous times over the course of a long in-house career.  Fortunately, not many.  But, I remember each of them very well along with what went into coming to the decision and preparing for the conversation.  This edition of “Ten Things” will set out some of the things you need to know to properly fire someone in the legal department:

(more…)

Ten Things: Sherman Act Section 1 – The Monopoly Man Cometh (Again) … and He’s Not Alone!

Antitrust law and Big Tech is hot right now.  BTS/Blackpink K-Pop hot.  Here in the USA at least, where the Department of Justice is on the verge of suing Google for (alleged) competition law violations, the DOJ and the FTC are waist-deep into investigating Big Tech generally, and a panel of the House of Representatives just issued a report calling for the break-up of Big Tech.  In Europe, regulators are looking at specific laws to dampen the influence of Big Tech by limiting certain tactics – and where Amazon is about to take its turn in the dock. Most of the behavior in question is what is known as single-firm conduct, i.e., companies acting alone but in ways that draw scrutiny from competition regulators and private litigants.  I wrote about this a while back in a post titled “Sherman Act Section 2 – The Monopoly Man Cometh.”  Clever title aside,[1] it is a fairly detailed look into single-firm conduct and where problems typically arise.  But, these investigations are also looking at Big Tech contracts and agreements.  So, now is a good time to take a look at Section 1 of the Sherman Act, i.e., agreements between one or more parties that may violate antitrust law.[2]  As you will see, it can be just as murky and confusing as Section 2 (and that’s saying something).  Unlike Section 2, however, it is typically easier to counsel the business on how to stay out of trouble when it comes to improper agreements vs. single-firm conduct.  And, no matter where you practice, most of the concepts below apply as competition law globally is similar when it comes to this issue.  This edition of “Ten Things” provides an overview of Section 1 and lays out some things you should be counseling your business colleagues on to help them avoid tripping up on anticompetitive agreements:

(more…)