Author: Sterling Miller

Almost 25 years of in-house legal experience as General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Chief Compliance officer of Marketo, Inc., Sabre Corporation (NASDAQ: SABR) & Travelocity.com. Prior to going in-house, I was an associate at a large St. Louis-based law firm. I serve on several advisory boards and board of directors, and consult with corporations and law firms. Before my current position with Marketo I served as Senior Counsel to the Dallas office of Hilgers Graben PLLC.

Ten Things: What In-House Lawyers Need to Know About Joint Ventures

You’re sitting at your desk, slurping down a big mug of coffee, when the CEO stops by your door.  “Guess what,” she says. “We’re going to do a joint venture with Mega Corp! I need you and your team to get right on it.”  You say, “You’re [messing] with me, right?  Joint ventures are where good business ideas go to die.”  Well, you don’t say it, but you sure are thinking it because you know that most joint ventures never perform as expected, many severely underperform, and most terminate early because the parties cannot agree on some issue.  Regardless, joint ventures are not going away – CEO’s just seem to love them.   And when the business wants to move forward with a perfectly legal idea, in-house counsel fall in line and do their utmost to make the deal happen (and draft documents that help minimize problems down the road).   While it is impossible to consider every possible problem that might arise over the course of the joint venture, you can set up a process that will allow the parties to minimize potential issues.  How?  By spending a lot of time upfront thinking about the key considerations of putting the venture together.  This edition of “Ten Things” walks you through the basics of setting up a joint venture:

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Ten Things: Creating a Good Contract Playbook

Contracts are the grease on the skids of most businesses, i.e., it is how they make money.  Consequently, unless you work in a very unusual legal department, one of the most important tasks you deal with as an in-house lawyer is the drafting and negotiation of contracts.  Most of us sat through a contracts class the first semester of our first year of law school, where concepts like “consideration,” “statute of frauds,” “offer and acceptance,” and “direct vs. consequential damages” were drilled into our heads.  And I am glad this was the case because the bit of law school I use the most day-to-day as an in-house lawyer is contract drafting (followed closely by “meeting avoidance”).  Most legal departments use contract templates for their important contracts, as it speeds up the process.  Yet, less than 25% of in-house legal departments use contract playbooks as part of the process.  This is surprising because everyone in the legal department, executive team, and the sales organization should understand which contracts are acceptable to the company and which contracts the company will walk away from.  Contract playbooks do just that.  Given their importance and the lack of adoption, this edition of “Ten Things” will walk through the process of creating a contract playbook:

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Ten Things: So You Want to Hold a Contest (and Not Go to Jail)?

I do love the folks in Marketing.  They are always very engaging and fun, and they have cool giveaways they will share with you.  But, I love them a lot less when they show up at my office door wanting to launch a contest. Tomorrow. Ugh. If you’ve been in-house long enough and your company has a marketing department, you will at some point probably need to figure out how to deal with contests and sweepstakes.  These games can be great promotional devices, generating excitement and interest in your company’s products and services. For many companies, these are their most effective forms of advertising.  As consumers, I know that many of us have entered such games – filling out a form, dropping a business card in a fishbowl, submitting a photo, clicking on a link on Facebook, getting a “Monopoly” game piece at the supermarket, or just buying a “Lotto” ticket at the gas station.  As consumers, however, most of us pay little attention to what goes on behind the scenes of a contest or sweepstakes.  As lawyers, we know that creating a successful one takes a lot of work by the business and the legal department, all of which will go to waste if the contest rules are not clear or if the sweepstakes runs afoul of state or federal laws. Unfortunately, sometimes your marketing team doesn’t understand all the work and complexity of pulling off a successful contest or sweepstakes.  It most certainly is not as easy as showing up at your door and announcing that the company wants to launch a one tomorrow or even next week.  As we say in Texas, that dog won’t hunt.  Yet, with some forethought and planning you can work with your marketing team to set up a reasonable process to create and approve contests that meet everyone’s needs. This edition of “Ten Things” discusses the basics of creating legal contests and sweepstakes in the United States:[1]

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Ten Things: Buying and Implementing Legal Tech

Last week the good folks at LawGeex released their free 2018 Legal Tech Buyer’s Guide.  Jammed full of valuable information, it’s essential to any in-house department looking to purchase legal tech.  If you haven’t downloaded it yet, do it now.  On June 11, 2018, I’ll be speaking at the ACC Legal Operations Conference in Chicago about practical uses of Artificial Intelligence in legal departments.  And, as you readers know, I am a sucker for a good gadget (watch for my 2018 “Cool Tech” blog later this summer and check out my interview with legal tech blogger Colin Levy).  All of this got me thinking about the fact that I have been around for – and helped buy and implement – a lot of legal tech over the years.  I was there when fax machines were cutting edge and when e-mail was new.  I helped build a home-grown document management system and now I am looking at uses of artificial intelligence for my team.  From typewriters to AI, yellow pads to iPads, is a pretty healthy span of technological change for any lawyer. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the process you go through when buying or implementing any type of technology.  If you go about it the wrong way, you can end up with a very expensive lesson and a piece of software that no one wants or uses.  Trust me, I know.  So, it’s important to get it right.  This edition of “Ten Things” walks through some of the lessons I have learned about buying and implementing legal tech:

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Ten Things: Sherman Act Section 2 – The Monopoly Man Cometh

When I went to law school way back when there were two topics I swore I had no interest in Tax law and Anti-Trust law.  I avoided those classes like a high school third-period ballroom dancing.  Ironically, as General Counsel, the two biggest pieces of litigation I have worked on were, of course, multiple tax law class actions and a mind-numbing, soul-sucking antitrust dispute.  Which meant, despite my previous oaths, I got a first-class education in both.  Of the two, by far the worst was the anti-trust dispute which involved multiple plaintiffs, the DOJ, and the hyper-focused attention of the CEO, President, and Board of Directors as this was truly a “bet the company” problem.  Not to mention that I did not have a day off (including holidays) for almost two years.

So, why do I bring up all this pain?  Because I wanted to share the most challenging part of the entire dispute – dealing with Section 2 of the Sherman Act.  I’ll get into the details below but will just note here that Section 2 is vast minefield of traps for the unwary and you can easily find your company mired in a litigation quagmire where every contract, every clause, every meeting or action, and every email or PowerPoint comes under scrutiny for alleged uncompetitive behavior all because your company is highly competitive and highly successful.  Sound like a nightmare?  It is.  Meaning, all in-house counsel should have a basic understanding of Section 2 (or the local law equivalent, e.g., EU Article 102 on abuse of a dominant position) so they can keep a sharp lookout for whether, under the right set of circumstances, company actions or plans could risk drawing anti-trust scrutiny or, far worse, an anti-trust lawsuit.  This edition of “Ten Things” sets out the basics of Section 2 and what you need to watch out for:

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Ten Things: My Boss is a [Censored] – What Do I Do?!

One of the most frequent questions I get from in-house lawyers is how to deal with difficult bosses. I have been very fortunate because – while practicing law for almost 30 years – I can count on a couple of fingers the times I was stuck with a boss who was a real asshole.   After talking with a lot of other lawyers (at firms and in-house) I realize how lucky I have been in my career.  While rare, I definitely remember how miserable I was the few times I did draw the short straw.  Practicing law is tough enough without having to dread coming into the office because of a boss that just makes your life miserable.  Still, I survived and got through it.  But it wasn’t always easy and some days it really took a toll.  I think my revenge was getting to the General Counsel chair a few times and swearing a blood oath to myself that I would never, ever be a jerk boss – something I remind myself of every day.  Unfortunately, the problem of crummy bosses in legal departments will never go away.  They are out there and they always will be.  So, if you want to be a successful in-house lawyer you’re going to need to learn how to deal with them whether they are legal department lawyers or executives in the company (lawyers have no monopoly on being buttheads).  This edition of “Ten Things” will set out some of my tips on how to deal with troublesome bosses:

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Ten Things: Managing a Dispersed Legal Team

A long time ago, most in-house legal departments were based in one location (or, at worst, one country).  Over the past twenty years, this dynamic has dramatically changed for many companies.  While a majority of smaller company legal departments still operate out of one location, not all do.  Moreover, many medium and large companies have their in-house lawyers located in multiple offices, including both domestically and internationally.  While definitely different than when I started in-house, I believe it is also better.  Much better.  Just like diversity in the workplace improves the company’s products and services, a legal department with members located in different places brings together multiple viewpoints, fresh legal analysis, different biases, and new work styles.

While this melting pot of differences makes things better over the long run, there are numerous challenges to managing such a group and bringing all of these differences together a way that functions smoothly.  How do you lead across multiple countries and multiple time zones?  How do you create unity in a team that rarely – if ever – sees each other in person?  How do you ensure everyone feels engaged and that their contributions are valued when they sit several thousand miles away from the home office?  All of these are tough things to work through, but all are solvable if you are willing to commit to doing the work necessary to bridge the gaps.  In my current role, I have attorneys in four cities in the USA but we are adding attorneys in London and Tokyo this year.  So, I will soon be faced dealing with the challenge of managing across countries.  Fortunately, I have managed teams like this before.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but I know it can be done.  This edition of “Ten Things” discusses the things you need to do to manage a dispersed legal department:

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Ten Things: 10 Essential Legal Department Issues for 2018

As I mentioned last year, I always look forward to the first part of the year as general counsel. Basically, it is a fresh start for me and for the Legal Department, a time to close out the past year’s issues and move on to next year’s problems.  Though, realistically, a lot of last year’s problems just tag along into the new year like a rude party guest who just doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to leave!

One thing I do near the beginning of every year is put together a list of the Top 10 things I think the Department needs to focus on over the course of the upcoming year.  These are tasks that are rooted in cement – they need to get done or there needs to be a damn good reason why not.  Well, as – unlike last year at this time – I am back in the General Counsel chair, I have been jotting down ideas like mad.  As move deeper into 2018, there are a number of things on which I think my team and I should be focusing.  Like last year, this edition of “Ten Things” will share my list with you.  I hope that you come up with your own Top Ten list or, if not, that my list gives you some good ideas for things you want to focus on in 2018.

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Ten Things: I Know It’s Only Boilerplate (But I LIke It)!

I was working my way through a contract recently and, like I always do, I flipped to the last several pages.  This is where you find the real action in any commercial agreement.  That’s right, the “boilerplate” clauses are where I like to spend a lot my time.  Why? Because if you get it wrong it can lead to big problems down the road.  Trust me, I’ve seen it.  Like many in-house lawyers, I did not begin my legal career focusing on contracts.  I started in litigation where I got see up close and personal the results of well-drafted contract clauses and poorly-drafted contract clauses.  When I went in-house, I taught myself a lot about drafting contracts, stumbling along with the help of some great mentors, a couple of books on contract drafting, and, most importantly, by reading a boatload of contracts – trying to figure out how all the pieces worked together.  My realization was that contracts simply tell the story about an agreement between two parties.  How the story turns out depends in large part on who is doing the writing.

I remember very clearly one of the first commercial agreements assigned to me when I started working in-house.  The attorney who asked me to work on it told me not to worry too much about all the boilerplate, saying, “it’s all pretty standard stuff.”  Since the boilerplate clauses took up almost half the agreement, that didn’t feel like the right way to go.  So, contrarian that I am, I spent a lot of time on the boilerplate.  And I am glad I did because I found a lot of little twists and turns that were anything but standard, fair, or balanced.  The lesson was if you ignore or skip lightly through the boilerplate, you are begging for problems or surprises down the road.  Since all in-house counsel should have a working knowledge of contracts, this edition of “Ten Things” describes some of the key boilerplate clauses you will find in most commercial agreements along with a few words of advice from someone who still likes to get his hands dirty reading every sub-paragraph of every clause “stuck in the back” of most contracts.  Hey, I know it’s only boilerplate… but I like it:

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Ten Things: An Index to all the Posts (November 2014 – March 2018)

I have been on the road good bit lately.  I spoke on Artificial Intelligence and ethics at the South Carolina Law Review 2018 Symposium a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, I presented at the Winston & Strawn 2018 VISION Conference in Dallas on how to be more productive.  Down the road, I will be speaking at the ACC Legal Operations Conference in Chicago in June on practical uses of Artificial Intelligence for in-house legal departments and I will be back at the annual Texas Bar Association Advanced In-House Counsel Course in Dallas in August.  The interesting thing to me is that all these opportunities came about because of this blog.  Which means I continue to be very humbled by the fact that so many people find it worth their time to read it.  We’re up to almost 2,600 direct subscribers and aiming for 3,000.  I remember when I thought 100 would be amazing.   Now I’m just thunderstruck (okay, I could have used a different word but when would I ever get to use “thunderstruck” in a sentence again?)

If you’re new to the blog, one thing I do every so often is put together an index of all of the blog posts, going all the way back to the beginning, November 2014.  I do this because I know it’s very difficult to go back and search through the monthly archives to see what’s there (and because I am too lazy to create an index on the website).   As I put this index edition together, I see that I am almost to 80 posts (and it is fun for me to go back and read the older ones).  By the time I do another index I may be over 100.  I keep thinking that at some point either I or the people that read it will get bored with “Ten Things.”  But, we’re not there yet (at least not on my end).  The good news is that I am still learning and going back in-house has shown me that there are so many things I am curious about regarding the law.  There are many new and exciting developments for in-house counsel and I am excited to be part of it.  Put another way: I still have a lot to write about (and maybe “time management” will be on the list)!  Thanks for taking the journey with me:

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