I suppose it should have occurred to me at some point during my bright, shiny-penny years as a Biglaw associate that not all of us were going to wash out of firm life and that eventually the remaining go-getters would make partner. And hit us up for business.
It started innocently enough. A few years after I’d fled Biglaw, I started frequenting seminars and conferences sponsored by my friends’ firms. Because who was I to pass up some free knowledge on a timely topic (oh hey there, advancements in privacy), a quick reunion with friends, and guilt-free breakfast carbs (to be clear, the carbs you eat while you are a captive audience are ALWAYS guilt-free)? This seemed like a no-brainer because my counterparts were relegated to meet n’ greet duties and passing out the programs. Not a one warranted a seat on those lofty panels reserved for special counsel, partners, and other god-like creatures of the legal pantheon.
It all started to unravel when I attended my first session where my buddy, a newly elevated special counsel, actually spoke on the panel. He even texted me a softball question that he begged me to ask him during the Q&A. I felt so dirty and used. No, I’m kidding. The question made me look like I’d actually had a handle on REITs.
But then things got worse — I began getting invitations to speak on in-house counsel panels, which implied some sort of expertise or experience on my part (as opposed to inevitable aging and an inherent stubbornness to give up on the storied and glamorous life of the in-house attorney).
The gig was entirely up when I was invited to attend a cocktail mixer hosted by Brody, an old Biglaw friend who’d just made partner at a boutique firm. Uneasily, I searched the invite and found no discernible agenda, which could only mean that I was on the menu. I went anyway thinking that my friend couldn’t possibly mean to shake me down for business, that this was just a good way to catch up on old times without the kids around.
Brody, the irresponsible goofball who’d sat down the hall from me and had spent many a late night entertaining the first-year associates with how many atomic warhead candies he could stuff in his mouth before his eyes started to melt, had become this suit-wearing stiff, who inclined his head politely to me and asked me what challenges I thought my company was facing in the current economical climate.
It was like Stepford. Only with sharks.
I stood there, swirling some listless sauv blanc around in a glass, and asked Brody some open-ended questions about what it was like to make partner, selling vs. doing, and life at a boutique firm, all the while contemplating how quickly I could bolt for the exit. Brody delivered these perfectly canned answers as if he’d never accidentally set a trash can on fire while cooking microwave popcorn as a sleep-deprived senior associate during a particular notorious IPO bender. This new Brody was all business, and frankly, all about my business. And I braced myself as he hit me with a whammy of a sales pitch highlighting how he could best serve my company’s needs and why he was the perfect person to do it.
There were several things wrong about his approach. (One of them being the whole atomic warhead candy thing. Surely, a prudent legal advisor did not pound tongue torture candy with reckless abandon. And another being that he hadn’t actually seemed all that interested in any aspect of the law when I’d worked alongside him. And finally, the whole accidental arson thing). But the ones that really stood out for me, was that first, like a lot of Biglaw partners, he failed to understand how we view and use outside counsel. And second, he failed to sell me on any kind of value proposition as if all of our picks for outside counsel weren’t ultimately scrutinized by the Finance team (you want to talk about stiffs in suits? Enter Finance.).
Some of that misfire in the pitch wasn’t Brody’s fault. Times have changed. Even as a freaking ginormous whale of a business, we don’t use bet-the-company firms for anything less than (wait for it) actual, bet-the-company litigation matters. Why? Because no one wants to stand before Finance and explain why we just paid some guy $975 an hour to look at a merger agreement.
Forget Biglaw, we don’t even use boutique firms like Brody’s if we can help it. Why? Because $625 bucks isn’t exactly a deal in Finance’s eyes either. And besides, we do most of that work in-house now. We go to outside counsel when we don’t have the expertise (think licensing deals in China, interpretation of new customs sanctions, or shudder, tax crap). So, unless Brody has a focus in one of these areas (which after a few more questions, I can tell he does not), there’s about a zero chance I’d be able to give him business just because we were former firm buddies. Like a lot of in-house shops, we put our work out in the attorney equivalent of an RFP and pick the best firm for the buck. We run our legal department like it’s (again, wait for it) a business. Because we work for a business. And we’ve been coached to think and move and spend like one.
I debated trying to explain this to Brody but could tell this wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Instead, I politely hinted that we’re not in the market for outside counsel right now but would keep him in mind if we ever needed assistance. And of course, I gamely accept Brody’s business card when he offers it to me. As if we’re not already linked on several social media sites. Because this is all part of the larger game and promise of “if you help me, I’ll help you” proposition that we all unknowingly signed up for back in our misspent youth.
And really, I can’t fault him. Brody’s just playing his part, and I’m playing mine.
Kay Thrace (not her real name) is a harried in-house counsel at a well-known company that everyone loves to hate. When not scuffing dirt on the sacrosanct line between business and the law, Kay enjoys pub trivia domination and eradicating incorrect usage of the Oxford comma. You can contact her by email at KayThraceATL@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @KayThrace.
Credit: Source link