Brace yourselves, I’m about to make you all super jelly here. I got to see The Who (or what’s left of them) live in concert this weekend. I know, I know. It was as awesome as it sounds. And even though they didn’t play one of my fave songs (and coincidentally, the name of this column for you non-Who fan luddites), it just so happened to come on the heels of one of those conversations at work that made you THINK.
You see, earlier that day, the new kid called me. Although I’m in the minority, I like the new kid. He’s fresh out of a New York Biglaw chop shop and never forgets to bring that up in conversation. But unlike some of my crustier counterparts, I can still remember what it was like to leave the regimented halls of the law firm and journey to crazy town. So, I don’t mind when the kid reminds me where he came from. It’s good to remember where you came from. It helps you hang on to your wits that much longer.
In addition to name dropping his prior gig, the kid has a lot of the newbie earmarks (he cuts in when the CLO is talking, he sends the business overly long, big-firm style emails and expects them to read them, and he volunteers for every damned committee under the sun). But he’s smart and when you get him one-on-one, he’s a good egg.
So, when he put time on my calendar to discuss career advice, a whopping 39 days into his tenure here, I accepted the meeting. Because sometimes, I, too, am a good egg.
I listened patiently while he explained to me his two predicaments. Was I aware, he demanded, that going in-house meant taking a pay cut? Like, a big one? Since I, too, remembered that sticker shock and the impulse to start eating ramen again, I managed to smother down my urge to guffaw and instead, pulled out my best, “you’re taking a pay cut, but you’re getting more autonomy over your schedule” speech. Then I explained to him how his bonus target actually worked. As in, if things continued to go well at the company (i.e., somebody managed to trank dart the sales team before they could do something monumentally stupid with our free cash float) we’d all actually hit our bonus numbers and then some. This seemed to mollify him slightly.
The other predicament was a far stickier one. What about my career path, Kay? At his firm (just like mine and I suspect most firms), there were well-established progressions. First you were a summer associate, then an honest-to-goodness associate (assuming you didn’t kill anyone during your summer stint or make the front page of ATL for skinny dipping at the firm’s sailing outing), then an august senior associate, and then you could go counsel/special counsel track or sell your soul and still-functioning organs for a chance to make partner. But when the new kid came on board here as an associate, he saw only senior associates and AGCs above him, and then the grim promotion math started to kick in.
When’s the earliest I could make senior associate, Kay? Ten years legal experience was the fastest I’d ever seen anyone promoted at my place, but I didn’t want to ruin his day. So, I told him the scoop as I’ve experienced it: every company and industry is different. At a smaller cap company, at four years of legal experience, there was an outside shot he could be brought on as a senior associate. Hell, if he went to a startup, he could be running the place (but we both agreed that that way was fraught with madness). A friend of mine at a boutique pharma company had made AGC at eight years, but did you really want to be the AGC of a company that made a glorified butt itch relief cream? Think of your business cards. These were all fair considerations. But there were two things I was absolutely certain of.
First, despite being a bunch of mouth-breathing troglodytes with suspect interpersonal skills and poor impulse control, the business made more money than we did.
Second, once you had established yourself as a competent nonmouth-breathing, non-troglodyte who would be willing to stand between the business and risk in the face of great adversity and copious whining, that first fact should be used to bargain for more.
As I explained to the new kid, someone in legal needed to review all of the search agreements for our talent team. That’s right, our internal team couldn’t be trusted to source the roles we needed so this work was done by outside vendors (I’m sure this had nothing to do with that time they hired three different people for the same VP role). And guess who reviewed all of the agreements and got a sense of what everybody made at each level in the business? And guess who later made herself indispensable and made a play for more money using that as leverage? That’s right. Sometimes, I’m a good egg. But when I’m a deviled egg, I make it count (just like that bad pun right there).
So, as the first order of business, I advised the kid to put his hand up to review the search agreements to get a sense of the financial landscape. Then, I suggested he keep doing what he was doing: learning the business, finding out who not to tick off, and putting his hand up for stuff nobody else wanted to do (I swear, this had nothing to do with me not wanting to organize the holiday party again, but honestly? Attorneys can be downright vicious when it comes to the Yankee swap). And finally, I told him to not only learn the business, but watch how they used what levers they could to swing negotiations in their favor. And someday, when the conditions were just right, bargain for more. In other words, be the business lawyer you want to see in the world. For your own financial gain, of course.
I know, I know. I could have told the kid to settle down and grind out his time like the rest of us. But we’re not in some weird competition for resources. At least not until the kid learns to stop marking Every. Single. Email. He. Writes. As. Attorney. Work. Product. Privileged. And. Confidential. Of course, it’s entirely possible that someday he’ll overthrow me and take my job. It is like the Lion King up in this piece (only with button downs and chukkas). But it’s alright, because I like having the kid around. That’s how I got rid of doing search agreements.
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.
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