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Blog Name: Amanda-In-House

The Words of Law
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4
26 June 2017
                                                        

All workplaces have their own language. In the hierarchy of words, a few lucky ones receive fantastic, if unlikely, promotions. Once, they were rarely used, unconfident words. Now, they take centre stage, thrusting themselves forward at every opportunity.

Take city law firms and you might think of the word ‘capacity’ or, my personal favourite, ‘query’, as in, ‘Query whether we should attend the meeting?’

Of course, one could save the voicebox an unnecessary workout and simply say, ‘Should we attend the meeting?’ -  but where’s the fun in that.

It used to bother me at primary school when a new trend, like yo-yos or stickers, appeared, fully formed, as if overnight. Who started it? Who wields such power? These days, I apply my curious mind to the question of who started using these pesky words. There had to be a first, right?

These types of word cross law firm boundaries. They seep from firm to firm like an inert gas, homogenising the lawyer-language. But when you go to work for a company it’s a free-for-all; you don’t know what you’ll get until you’re there.

In the office I work in, the word of the moment is ‘piece’.

Inoffensive, you might think.

Well think again.

Everything we work on has become a ‘piece’. Not an ‘issue’ or an ‘area’ or a ‘work-stream’ – always a ‘piece’. I sat in on a conference call the other day in which the word ‘piece’ was used eighteen times by one woman. We were asked to consider the ‘accounts piece’, the ‘recruitment piece’, the ‘PowerPoint piece’.  In other words, we had to think about the accounts, recruitment and PowerPoint.

I was thinking about none of the above. I was thinking about the word ‘piece’ and debating banging my head against the desk.

Perhaps there is something wrong with me. I feel particularly intolerant of these repeated words. I get to a point on calls like the one above where my entire body is clenched in fury. I can barely speak. I grow increasingly nervous that if someone says the word ‘piece’ one more time, I will snap, throw my laptop across the room and stab myself with a pencil.

Query whether I am the only person with this problem?



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The In-house Lawyer and the Workable Contract
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9
17 May 2017

                                      
                                                                      Morguefile.com

It is comforting to know that commercial solicitors in private-practice are purveyors of perfection.

 

But, this is a tale of a double-edged sword.

 

To the trainee tasked with cross-reference checks or entrusted with the heady duty of formatting the numbering system in a fifty-pager, it can lead to a dangerous misconception about the real world, a comforting sense that everything is ordered and that big businesses operate in an organised fashion.

 

Surely, the trainee thinks, no one would ever let a contract progress to signature with the wrong party names blazoned proudly on the front page, or a rogue "(a)" where there should be a "5.5.1".

 

It is therefore a rude awakening when that same trainee, raised on a gospel of “attention to detail”, is loosed into the wide-world to undertake a client secondment.

 

Perhaps they turn a blind eye to the first contract they encounter, signed in 2014 and dotted with typos (the little scoundrels). They might even overlook the first “Error: Clause Reference Not Found” in an executed agreement. Undeterred, they will try to format their contracts to the standard they have grown accustomed to, with no support from a savvy PA (“they don’t do typing here”), painstakingly aligning and emboldening and finally, guilt-ridden, resorting to “format painter”.

 

And, if they only stay in-house for three months, that might be the end of the story. They will scurry back to their private offices, ears still ringing with the open-plan roar, like an escapee from the zoo who, realising that freedom is not quite what it was cracked up to be, returns willingly to the cage.

 

But for the six-monther, or the career-changer, there will come a time when he or she realises that such studiousness goes unrewarded, that the sheer volume of contracts passing through makes perfectionism an unachievable goal. It is at this point that they will learn the secret all in-house lawyers know - that large, successful companies are built on shoddy contracts, possibly based on precedents last reviewed in 1999.

 

Because of this there is a word that the in-house lawyer values that is anathema to the well-bred associate. That word is “workable” (although "commercial" sometimes steps in). To the in-house lawyer a workable contract is often the best that can be hoped for.

 

So, my advice to the trainee who beats themselves up because they missed the double 8.4 - it’s a drop in the ocean, everything will be fine (probably).

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Species of In-House Lawyer - For the Amateur Observer
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6
18 April 2017

My first post in this series about in-house life generated a rather healthy debate and I would like to thank all those who commented (yes, even you). All attention is good attention, right?

This week, for your delectation, I present a beginners’ guide to in-house spotting.

The list below is by no means a full summary of the species of in-house lawyer one may encounter in the wild. But, for the amateur observer, what follows is a list of common breeds that will serve to get you started.

Photo: Juditu @ Morguefile

The Born and Bred (“B&B”) – B&Bs are raised in-house. They know all about supply chains, R&D and can chirrup business lingo like - well, a business person. Had they tried to join the big-city flocks, they may well have been rejected. Luckily it’s never bothered them much. Their commercial awareness is second to none, despite their 2:2 from Sheffield.

The Wannabe (“WB”) – A close cousin of the B&B. The WB’s distinguishing feature is a general lack of contentment. WBs mourns their rejection from the city, lust after the eloquent song of their private-practice cousins and toil for curiously long hours, looking on in disdain when the YP’s flit-off at five on the dot.  

The Tactical Mover (“TM”) – TMs spend a proper amount of time in private-practice, honing their craft and plumping the nest for winter. They only fly to new territory on proper inspection of the site and with assurances of comfort and life-long respect firmly in place.

The Young Parent (“YP”) – YPs move in-house shortly after the birth of their first baby. Once they get over the rather shambolic nature of the new environment they adapt to it well, bringing a sense of the city to the suburban nest. High proportion of females. Their offspring attend 8am-6pm nurseries.  

The Instant Convert (“IC”) – The IC is a rare breed but can be spotted on close observation of the field. ICs are raised in private-practice but feel the discomforts keenly. Fearing Stockholm Syndrome, the IC leaves the city on qualification, willing to go wherever will have them. They normally harbour secret intentions to give up the whole thing as a bad lot.

How about you - have you spotted any other breeds out in the wild?

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In-House Lawyers: Stereotypes and Expectations
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4
02 March 2017

On meeting a lawyer of the old-school variety at a recent party I explained that I now work in-house. His response – an immediate lack of interest prefaced by a comment that I must only want babies - got me thinking.

Is that the general assumption of city lawyers? Do they revile their in-house relations and sneer at those of us who make the leap? Or are they quietly jealous?

On making enquiries I found the responses to be mixed, ranging from the complementary to the critical with the desperate somewhere in between - “at least in-house you're not expected to be shitting blood for half your career”, wept one respondent from a sleeping pod (probably).

I suspect that those who harbour the strongest objections to in-house lawyers are those found at the extremities of private practice - the genuine lover at one end and the exhausted hater at the other, wedded to their firm forever more due to their mortgage and expensive children. The lover simply cannot understand why someone would leave the cosy fold of the firm which has treated them so well and the hater needs to validate their life choices by defecating on the green, green grass over the fence. Photo by taliesin at Morguefile.com

From everyone else comes a more balanced view, though I don’t doubt there is a certain feeling of intellectual superiority in some quarters of private practice or, as someone once said to me, “isn’t in-house all chats about EastEnders and shoes?”.

I have also encountered a more physical, macho superiority in the private practice lawyer who suspects that the in-house lawyer simply couldn’t hack the pace. All this chat about “having other interests” and “wanting to see family” is just a cosy disguise for our thin-skins. Photo by kconnor at Morguefile.com

A common response brands the in-house lawyer a "rubber stamp" for the business - an unfair accusation in my experience as I certainly have the power to prevent the business taking a decision and often steer them down different paths. It seems a strange perception to me considering that the in-house lawyer is privy to business decision making at a much earlier stage than their city cousins.

Comments that the in-house lawyer is a “jack of all trades”, with the resulting implication left politely dangling, may be more justified. When asked to advise on an utterly new aspect of the law the in-house lawyer often has no choice other than to get on with it, or if they’re lucky blag some free advice from old friends (the best piece of advice for an in-house lawyer - cling on to your private practice friends with both hands and make subtle hints about future work).

In defence of the in-house lawyer I prefer to echo the answer of a friend who, in response to my probing and in the words of my favourite heroin-addict, said, “overall, the general perception is that in-house lawyers choose life.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCxgqHqakXc&t=23s


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