in-house department management

Ten Things: Ransomware – What In-House Counsel Need to Know

Back in January, I gave my list of essential issues for in-house counsel to pay attention to in 2021.  One of the items I listed was “phishing.”  Unfortunately, I was right to highlight it.  Phishing has been a hot topic in 2021.  More alarming, however, is that phishing’s good buddy ransomware has become an even bigger issue for in-house lawyers.  In the first half of 2021, ransomware attacks are up over 148% (with more attacks than the last ten years combined!).  The average ransom is now $200,000-$300,000 (with demands now exceeding $10,000,000.00) and businesses are down an average of 21 days whether they pay the ransom or not!  I don’t know about you, but being down for three weeks and getting stuck with a $300,000 bill to access my data would be a real problem for most companies.  To make matters worse, bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, looking for new ways to gain access to corporate information systems.  The good news is that there are things you can do now as in-house counsel to help your company prepare for and limit, or even prevent, a ransomware attack.  Proactive in-house counsel is valuable in-house counsel, so taking steps now is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of the legal department.  This edition of “Ten Things” walks you through some of the steps you can take to mitigate the damage of a ransomware attack:

(more…)

Ten Things: Taking Advantage of Opportunities to Build Your In-House Career

Last month, my good friend, Jane McBride, and I presented a CLE to the Texas Bar in-house counsel section on how to “take advantage of opportunity.”  I, of course, had my list of ten things and Jane (as an in-house lawyer and ace career coach) brought her usual great ideas to the table as well.  The mixture of our ideas was a killer combination and made for an excellent presentation.  But, in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to my original list of ten and thinking that list would make a good “Ten Things” blog.  Not because there was anything wrong with the combined list, but because my original ten told the story of how I was able to advance my career as an in-house lawyer –  from that first day on the job at American Airlines to my last day as general counsel of Marketo (my third time in the general counsel chair).  My own personal experience is generally what I like to share with you in this blog.  While this post is aimed at those new to or a few years into the in-house counsel life, I think most of the lessons below apply to pretty much anyone at any point in their in-house career.  So, let’s get started.  This edition of “Ten Things” discusses how in-house lawyers can best take advantage of opportunities to advance their career:

(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: 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: More Effective 1:1 Meetings (Manager View)

In my last post, I dealt with the importance and effectiveness of 1:1 meetings from the viewpoint of the employee.[1]  As promised, I will now discuss 1:1 meetings from the viewpoint of the manager. The first thing you should do is go back and re-read the last post because pretty much everything on that list applies to the manager side of the equation as well, either in terms of understanding where your employee is coming from or common sense tactics that make for better 1:1 meetings regardless of which side of the table you sit.  Second, if you have never had any training on how to conduct 1:1 employee meetings do not feel bad.  You are not alone!  Coming up through the ranks of in-house lawyers, my only experience with 1:1 meetings were the ones I attended as an employee.  Some managers were really good at it and some were pretty bad.  Since most companies don’t spend a lot of time training people (especially in-house lawyers) on how to manage people, when I became a manager and started holding my own 1:1 meetings the key, for me, was to mimic the things I thought prior managers did well and not do the things I thought sucked.  Over time, and with a little research on the side, I like to think I developed a process for pretty effective 1:1 meetings (though if you worked for me in the past you may disagree!). Regardless, since it is my blog, I get to at least pretend those 1:1’s were awesome.  And now it’s time to share that big bag of awesomeness with you. This edition of “Ten Things” shares my tips on how to host effective 1:1 meetings with your direct reports:

(more…)

Ten Things: More Effective 1:1 Meetings (Employee View)

A few months back I took some swings at meetings in general, i.e. Escaping Meeting Hell.  But, as I noted, not all meetings are “bad” and many are necessary, especially for in-house counsel.  Of the meetings in-house counsel must attend, none should rank higher than your 1:1 meetings with your boss.  You may think it is just more administrative bullshit you have to make time for during your already crowded week – and you would be somewhat correct.  But, it is important administrative bullshit and the administrative part of being an in-house lawyer is just as critical as the substantive legal work.[1]  Not only is a one-on-one meeting a way to keep your manager informed of what is going on, it is also a key ingredient of the “soup” that is served up as part of career development and advancement.  So, grab your spoon and get ready to dig in as this edition of “Ten Things” discusses what you can do to have more effective 1:1 meetings with your boss:

(more…)

Ten Things: Essential Issues for In-House Counsel (2020 Edition)

When I was a kid there was a Saturday morning cartoon show called Sealab 2020.  I remember thinking that was a long, long way off and wondering how old I would be when 2020 rolled around – – and whether by then there would really be a giant lab on the bottom of the sea with 250 oceanauts fighting sea monsters and battling pollution.  But, here we are; it’s 2020!  I am officially old(ish) and, sadly, sea monsters go un-battled under the ocean (unless you count Wicked Tuna), but pollution on (and in) the high seas runs rampant.   Triple bummer.  What does this have to do with “Ten Things” you ask?  Nothing other than a little nostalgia and the “2020” reference as this is my first post of the New Year.  As usual, we’ll start the year with my list of essential issues for in-house lawyers to pay attention to over the coming months.  When I was general counsel, I started every year thinking about the “big picture” and what risks (good or bad) might be coming down the pike that I needed to be aware of as an in-house lawyer.  It’s not an easy task as there is so much “out there” that can have an impact on your company and legal department.  Still, it’s better to try to anticipate some than to ignore all.  So, once again, I have sat down, read a lot, and thought hard about different issues that will likely have some substantial impact – positive or negative – on in-house lawyers and for which a little bit of preparation or pro-active attention can make you a hero vs. someone caught flat-footed.  With the usual caveat that I have no crystal ball showing me what’s important, here my “Ten Things” 2020 edition of essential issues for in-house counsel:

(more…)

Ten Things: The “Strategic” In-House Lawyer

As we come to the end of 2019, I wanted to write about an issue I hear a lot about.  In fact, in many of my conversations with in-house counsel, this is the number one topic, i.e., “how do I become a strategic in-house lawyer?”  While sometimes this is a self-generated concern, it arises mostly because someone (the CEO, the General Counsel, or whomever) told the lawyer during an annual review or another setting that they need to be more “strategic” with their thinking.  Sadly, that is typically about the extent of it, that is, “be more strategic.  Now go forth and sin no more.” From personal experience, I can tell you that receiving such a command from your boss without more is about as useful as a mud fence in a rainstorm.  But, as many in-house lawyers are learning, it is not enough to be an excellent lawyer with deep legal skills and institutional knowledge.  That just gets you to the table.  The business wants more out of its in-house legal department, especially from the general counsel and other senior members of the legal team.  They want you to be “part of the business” and they want you to be “strategic.”  Unfortunately, no one teaches you how to be strategic in law school – at least not when I was there.  For most, you just sort of figure it out as you go along.  That was my method.  I cannot tell you that I figured out the magical incantation that makes you a strategic thinker, but I have learned many relevant lessons over the years.  This edition of “Ten Things” shares my thoughts on how to become a strategic in-house lawyer:

(more…)

Ten Things: Escaping Meeting Hell

If you’ve been an in-house lawyer long enough you know that one thing as inevitable as taxes, death, and another Fast and the Furious movie is meetings.  Lots and lots of meetings.  Meetings you set, meetings you’re invited to, meetings with the boss, meetings as the boss, status meetings, “kick-off” meetings, post-mortem meetings, meetings with law firms, meetings about all the damn meetings you’re having, meetings… well, you get the point.  Some days you look at your calendar and it’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings.  There is barely time to go to the bathroom, let alone get something to eat or just catch your breath (or Heaven forbid do some work).  Worst of all, sometimes you’re sitting in a meeting asking yourself “why the hell am I here?” or “what’s the point of this meeting?”  If you’ve had enough of the Alcatraz I call “Meeting Hell,” then read on.  Time for a jailbreak.

I’ve been around for a while and I’ve hosted a lot of meetings and I’ve attended a lot of meetings.  I’ve also found ways to get out of meetings or, if not, make them more productive and less painful.   This edition of “Ten Thing” discusses my tips for escaping Meeting Hell.  So, step into my cell and let’s have a chat.  And keep it down, the warden has ears everywhere:

(more…)

Ten Things – How to Read a Contract

I recently heard from someone I worked with when I was General Counsel of Travelocity.  She was on the business side and worked on a lot of contracts.  She reached out because she remembered an article I had written and posted on the legal department intranet site about “how to read contracts.”  It was something I wrote for the business so they would be better prepared to work with my team on contracts.  Apparently, she still used it over ten years later!  But, she had lost her only copy and wanted to share it with some of her team at her new company so she could coach them up.  She reached out to ask me if I still had a copy that I could share with her.  I did and sent it over to her.  Now she is teaching a new generation of her sales team how to read contracts.  Reading back through it, however, got me thinking about the fact that not all in-house lawyers have a good understanding of how to read a contract – though we would all hate to admit it.  It is not a skill they teach in law school (or least didn’t when I was there, i.e., I never saw an actual contract until I started working at a law firm).  Instead, law schools focus more on contract theory and stuff like that.  Which is all well and good until you’re faced with your first 50-page agreement and realize all that theory isn’t going to help you much as you start to wade through something that reads like a map written in ancient Greek.

(more…)