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:
1. Becoming General Counsel. My first attempt to bring together many of the lessons I have learned over a fortunate career in terms of the things you need to do to snag the general counsel chair, starting with be careful what you wish for as you just might get it.
2. The “Strategic” In-House Lawyer. I decided to take a swing at tackling one of the most frequent demands of in-house lawyers, i.e., “Be more strategic.” It’s rare that the business can tell you what it means or wants when this request is made – generally, it’s just something MBAs like to demand. And they often confuse what you do in the legal department with the responsibilities of other groups like HR, Tax, or Finance. Over many years, I put together bits and pieces about how to be “strategic.” Here I share those bits and pieces.
3. Showing the Value of the Legal Department. Based on the comments I received, this may be the most popular “Ten Things” post of all. It’s also the working title of my next book for the American Bar Association (so start saving up for that). I think the overall message is don’t try to solve a qualitative problem with just quantitative analysis – you need some P.T. Barnum mixed in! That said, there is some math involved. Which sucks.
4. How to Delegate – The Essentials. A fundamental skill all in-house lawyers need yet we are so terrible at it. Here, I try to walk through what you need to do to get it right. If you do get it right, the payoff is huge. Primarily, delegation is not about offloading your work (though that is part of it), it’s about teaching the next generation how to do things that should no longer be doing. It takes a lot of work to do it correctly.
5. Presenting Legal Issues to Senior Executives. Many lessons learned the hard way here. It was fun (and painful) recalling my many “presenter” flops (so, so many…). Fortunately, I got better! Allegedly, anyway.
6. I Know it’s Only Boilerplate (but I like it!). An example of my early career focus on things that many in-house lawyers find uninteresting. Boilerplate is where the action is in most contracts. Plus, I love the title – the result of writing to the Rolling Stones on my Spotify feed. Thank God, Metallica wasn’t playing.
7. How to Read a Contract. Of all the things they don’t teach you in law school, this is one of the biggest failures in my opinion (right up there with the business side of being a lawyer). Yet, it is critical that all in-house counsel know how to dissect a contract. The first thing to realize is that it is vastly different than reading a book, newspaper article, or any other “normal” writing. Contracts sometimes seem like they were written by Franz Kafka… on a bad day… on acid. Not sure what I mean? Read The Metamorphosis.
8. Time for a Conversation about Drafting Emails and Documents. One of the first “Ten Things” blogs – critical lessons on working with the business to stop stupid emails, PowerPoints, memos, and other documents – all drawn from first-hand experience. The age of email, text, and Slack/Teams has given everyone the false sense that there is no permanent record of what they write down, so they do not treat it like a business document. As I have said before, if there is ever a nuclear war the only things remaining when it is over will be cockroaches and all of those stupid emails and texts you thought were deleted. They’re not. If there is one thing to put on your 2021 to-do list it’s to get out there and train the business to write smart.
9. How to Prepare an Annual Legal Budget. Literally written in real-time while I was preparing the annual legal department budget as general counsel of Marketo. Another necessary skill that no one teaches you in law school or otherwise. I think lack of forethought into the annual budget is a key reason many legal departments find their budget the same or cut. Playing the game right is part and parcel to getting what you need.
10. Basic Corporate Governance for In-House Lawyers. No matter your role in the department, all in-house lawyers should understand the basics of corporate governance as it impacts just about everything you do day in and day out in the legal department.
Whew, that was tough! Don’t make me do that again. Like the College Football Playoff, there were so many that almost made the final list: Basic Finance for In-House Lawyers, Buying and Implementing Legal Tech, Making Legal the Department of Yes, and Texas A&M were right up there. Here is a fairly recent list of all my blog posts (through June 2020 at least) – just click here to read it. If you have a favorite “Ten Things” post, let me know. And thank you for indulging my detour today (now you know my favorites). Next week, we’ll get to the best legal blogs of 2020 along with a few new twists. Finally, I want to wish each of you a merry and bright holiday season and a remarkable and Covid-free 2021. Next year will be better – much better!
December 22, 2020
Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies and Ten (More) Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies Volume 2 are on sale at the ABA website. As the ABA says, “All in-house lawyers need to own these books!” The ABA is smart.
I have published two other books which make awesome gifts: The Evolution of Professional Football, and The Slow-Cooker Savant. I am also available for speaking engagements, coaching, training, and consulting.
“Ten Things” is not legal advice nor legal opinion and represents my views only. It is intended to provide practical tips and references to the busy in-house practitioner and other readers. If you have questions or comments, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.