There is a great episode of the old TV series The Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith (The Penguin on TV’s Batman/”Mick” in the Rocky films) finds out he is the last man on earth, having survived a nuclear bomb explosion while reading in the vault of the bank where he works. Not only is he the last man on earth, he ends up near the local library and realizes that the books are all intact and that he now has all the time in the world to devote to the thing he loves most – reading. Unfortunately, as he is bending to pick up a book his glasses slip off and shatter leaving him virtually blind and, in typical Twilight Zone fashion, unable to read. Yikes! Well, it’s no secret that I love to read. More so even then binge-watching on Netflix (and that’s saying something). So, this episode of The Twilight Zone has haunted me for years and years – so much that I always keep an extra pair of glasses around “just in case.”
I used to tell my team, if you send me something, I will read it – no matter what. This usually meant my in-box was full of emails, articles, pdf’s, and pretty much “you-name-it” in terms of things people wanted to share with me to read. I loved it, though sometimes it did get to be a bit much and there was no way I could get through the pile in one day. I have also written in this blog about the importance of in-house counsel of being well-read (especially for those seeking to move up the chain). For example, see my posts on The Habits of Highly Effective In-House Counsel and Becoming General Counsel. To put it bluntly, it you don’t enjoy reading and you are a lawyer, you probably made the wrong career move. While reading is great, the sheer volume of choices of “what to read” can be overwhelming, both in terms of work life and personal life. There is just “too much” information out there to read everything you want to read. So, it’s important to cut things down, especially when it comes to reading things for the job. As General Counsel, I once shared with my team the things that I read every day, things that I felt made me a better in-house lawyer and a better employee of the company. In this edition of “Ten Things” I want to share that list and what I think are ten things all in-house counsel should read every day:
1. The Wall Street Journal. This is America’s business newspaper. That said, it has separate editions for different regions of the world so regardless of where you sit you can get tailored business news. Over the years, it definitely has developed a more conservative nature but it’s reporting on business is unmatched in my opinion. You also get a heavy dose of business-oriented editorials and Op-Ed pieces. While you may not agree with them, they are important to read so you see what others are thinking and the basis for their opinions. Understanding different viewpoints is a key skill for any attorney. You can subscribe to the print and/or on-line versions. Moreover, you can get a custom set of headlines sent to you via email every day. Be sure to sign up for the “Risk and Compliance Journal” daily email as well. It contains a lot of informative stories and resources on managing risk and dealing with compliance issues.
2. The New York Times. One of the finest global newspapers in the world. Unmatched reporting on world events, politics, and other important issues. It tends to lean to the left, but that’s okay. As I noted, a smart in-house lawyer wants to get a sense for what people are thinking on all sides of an issue, not just the views they hold themselves. Like the Wall Street Journal, you may not agree with everything but the editorials and Op-Ed pieces are always very well-written and the writers’ articulate their view-points in ways you cannot easily brush off, regardless of your political leanings. It too has a daily headlines email you can sign up for and customize, and it provides regional coverage around the globe along with versions in Chinese and Spanish. Many articles are free to read on-line but – like the WSJ – a paid subscription is required to gain full access to everything.
While the WSJ and NYT are great newspapers, it’s also important to keep up with what’s going on near you as well. Your local newspaper will provide a lot of information about important local issues and politics, many of which can and will affect your company, e.g., city council meeting reports, state government actions, etc. Also, take time to see what’s going on locally for fun and use that information to make plans to spend time with your family or significant other. They will appreciate that you found something fun and interesting to do during family time!
3. Industry Specific Publications. You should find at least one publication that is specific to your industry. Regardless of the business, e.g., technology, transportation, entertainment, travel, retail, etc., you will serve yourself well by finding a non-legal publication that reports on your company’s core business and make it a daily read. Getting a deeper understanding of the marketplace, competitors, government affairs, key issues, predictions for the future, and other information about your company’s industry will make you a better in-house lawyer and more valuable to the business. If you’re stumped for publications to read, reach out to some of your business colleagues and ask for their recommendations.
4. Law.com. Law.com is an excellent source of general legal information and developments. You must sign up for the service, but it’s free. The site contains dozens of informative articles daily along with practice area-specific news, resources, and practitioner insights along with other information. You can also sign up for the daily “ALM Minute” which brings you a “best of” collection of stories from Law.com and its sister publications.
5. Corporate Counsel. Corporate Counsel magazine is a sister publication to Law.com, but is aimed specifically at in-house lawyers. The on-line version requires you to sign up to read the articles – but sign up is free. It has a daily “headlines” email you can sign up for too. The web site is jam-packed with great articles on a wide range of topics of interest to in-house lawyers. It also offers a useful legal marketplace section which provides information on expert witnesses, books, CLE, job postings (www.lawjobs.com), and other helpful materials.
6. Lexology.com. If you read this blog regularly, you know I am a huge fan of Lexology, a free daily newsfeed service providing access to hundreds articles, blogs, law firm publications, and other materials about a huge variety of legal issues – most aimed at in-house lawyers. When you subscribe to Lexology (it’s free) you set preferences regarding your geographic areas of interest (e.g., U.S., Europe, Asia, etc.), legal areas of interest (e.g., litigation, finance law, employment law, M&A, etc.) and you get a daily email chock-full of great content from leading law firms, blogs, and other sources. Lexology also offers a service called “Navigator” which is a free comparative global law resource. You simply pick a work area (e.g., M&A or Arbitration) then “click” a jurisdiction (for a comparative report, choose more than one jurisdiction or state). Choose the sub-sections of your topic and click “Display Results.” You can then read, print, or download the resulting report. Navigator plans on adding more topic areas and jurisdictions over the course of the year. A great free resource if you need to quickly get the basics of the law in a particular jurisdiction.
7. ACC Docket. This is the on-line version of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Docket magazine and another on-line resource aimed squarely at in-house counsel. Even better, the material on-line here is free to access (unlike materials on the main ACC website which usually require an ACC membership to access). I particularly like the Department Management and Technology sections. It’s always worth scanning the top stories on the home page every day.
8. GoInHouse.com. Even if you are 100% happy in your current position there are two things you should do: a) always have a current resume ready, and b) check out GoInHouse.com every day just to see what types of in-house jobs are available. You never know if your dream job might be out there waiting for you. Just yesterday I saw a job for in-house counsel with the National Football League and with the NBA). Either would be pretty awesome for me! You can also sign up for a weekly list of new jobs and for instant email alerts based by location and/or category. Best of all, it’s free. There is a sister website called InhouseBlog.com with lots of useful information about getting a job in-house or finding a different in-house position. It also has helpful information such as how to negotiate salaries and what to do the first 90 days at a new in-house job.
9. Your Favorite Blog. Speaking of blogs, you should find one or two legal blogs that really tie into your day-to-day work and subscribe to those. Targeted blogs can help you enhance your expertise on issues critical to your practice area. Alternatively, if you’re looking to expand your skill set, targeted blogs can help you do that as well. You can find a blog on just about any legal topic under the sun. If you need some ideas, check out my two posts on Best Blogs of 2015 and Best Blogs of 2016. I am sure you will find something of interest. A blog you can check every day is Above the Law. It contains a wide variety of material from many different writers and is consistently rated as one of the best legal blogs.
10. Something Fun! Finally, don’t forget to carve out some time every day to read something just for fun. Sometimes it’s important to distract yourself from the grind of the work day. Find one or two websites (or print magazines, etc.) that are just interesting to you for whatever reason. I always check out The Onion and ESPN.com every day. The Onion makes me laugh and ESPN keeps me up to date on my favorite sports teams. You might want to read something involving movies or entertainment, music, social media, fashion, video clips, gardening, automobiles, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter as long as it gives you a break and it’s something you enjoy. Just 15 minutes of “fun reading” can clear your head and get you back in the right frame of mind to deal with the rest of the day.
So, there you have it. My top ten list of things in-house lawyers should be reading every day. You might have a different list of things you think are important to read and that’s great. If you do, please pass those suggestions along to other readers of this blog. My apologies to those outside the U.S. as I know the list above is not focused on you as much as I would like (so, would love to hear from you if you have suggestions). Also, remember to space out your reading over the course of the day. If you try to read everything in one session, you’ll never get any work done! And you don’t need to read every article. You’ll spot the things that are most helpful to you and you can ignore the rest. But, regardless of where you sit in the hierarchy or whether you are a long-time in-house lawyer or just starting out, the important thing is recognizing that reading and staying informed on a wide range of topics is a core part of the in-house lawyer’s job.
February 16, 2017
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My first book, “The Evolution of Professional Football,” is available for sale on Amazon and at www.SterlingMillerBooks.com. My second book, a collection of posts from this blog, is in production and will be published by the American Bar Association in the next few months.