An Online General Counsel Imagines a School for GCs
If London-based general counsel Brett Farrell could be dean of a School for General Counsel, he would name the first class in the curriculum something like Mythbusters 101.
Farrell, whose recent blog post What you are not taught at General Counsel school is making its way around legal affairs websites, says the rosy stereotypes about coveted in-house jobsincluding shorter hours, a feeling of being more involved to the company, and pride that ones opinion really mattersare misleading.
OK, sure, who wants to be in a private practice law firm until 3 a.m., reading documents every night until the next deal?, Farrell says, conceding that in-house hours are occasionally shorter. But in-house is not a utopia. Its a business. Youre expected to deliver on business objectivesand if you dont, your boss is going to kick you.
The Sydney-born lawyer recently returned to an in-house position with an online financial services company about eight months ago, after spending two years in private practice with U.K. firm Barlow Robbins. He specializes in the financial services sector and technology trading, and in the past two decades has handled legal initiatives for Baker & McKenzie, Sega Europe, BMG Music Publishing, and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International.
Farrells blog post, written under the name Brett Tech Lawyer, has gotten attention for what some have perceived as exposing the downsides of being a corporate counsel. But he doesnt see it that way.
I prefer to think of it as eyes wide open, Farrell said in a phone interview from his London home. Its realizing that lawyers in-house are part of a business function. The lawyer needs to subtly shift their thinking [to understand] that the advice they serve has a business function.
His top lessons for aspiring in-house attorneys?
In-house, youre generally alone. Youre not with other lawyers. Youre with business people, Farrell says. In a law firm, if you do have doubts about advice, you can ask somebody. As general counsel, youre on your own.
As a result, Farrell says the advice of his professional friends who are in-house counsel around Western Europe has been invaluable. He gives the example of a recent evening when he emailed a friend who is general counsel for Londons Financial Times just to ask, Is this normal? Does this happen? The reassuring advice he got from a fellow lawyer helped with what he says often feels like an emotional roller coaster that is in-house counsel.
Its difficult to come to terms with the fact that businesspeople are more comfortable taking risks, Farrell notes, but thats OK. He writes on his blog that lawyers need to bridge the gap between probability (business-speak) and possibility (legal-speak).
You are a voice at the table, but that doesnt mean abdicating your control function as the legal counsel, Farrell cautions. Sometimes you should say, That one you definitely should not do. Thats one you shouldnt do but if you did, heres what will happen. Eyes wide open, calculated, understood . . . you feel your way.
Farrell started his blog in April, and he describes it as: Media & Technology. Maybe law. Hes sort of an accidental social media success, having only signed up for Twitter at the urging of his companys marketing team. It started as an experiment to connect with clients, but hes now a prolific tweeter, using the handle @BrettTechLawyer. Farrell notes that the he found nearly all of the in-house colleagues from whom he now seeks counsel on Twitter.
Using his blog almost like a short curriculum for summer school, Farrell is planning upcoming posts that will focus on how to pick a law firm for outside work, the emotional roller coaster of being a general counsel, and a post with tips for picking professional friends.