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The Real World
When you meet ben Heineman in a social setting, he's a good conversationalist, capable of all sorts of small talk. At one gathering, he and I chatted about the magazine's then-new offices, sending the kids off to college, and the venue (Cipriani Wall Street, a landmark banquet hall and restaurant just down the street from the New York Stock Exchange). You'd never guess, from that sort of chitchat, that Heineman is a transformative agent.
But even casual readers of Corporate Counsel know that he is. In his role as general counsel of General Electric Company, Heineman transformed every notion of what a GC and a modern legal department should be. He hired bright, characterful people (every single one I've met seems to have wide-ranging intellectual interests, from foreign languages to global economics) and gave them unprecedented power. Post-Heineman, few in-house counsel are content to just sign contracts and cut checks for outside counsel.
Now Heineman, purportedly retired (at least from GE, in any event), is out to transform legal education.
Reporter Catherine Dunn went up to Boston to audit a class he teaches at Harvard Law School on the art of corporate counsel. I looked at the story this morning (we go to press in a few days), and it's a good read. Heineman and vice-dean David Wilkins posit to the class all sorts of situations faced by modern corporate counsel, and the story encapsulates what distinguishes our readers' jobs from those of their law firm counterparts.
In an interview after the class, Heineman told Dunn, "This is really a course about how to be a lawyer when the law is only part of any question you're dealing with." And that's precisely itour readers not only have to deal with lawyering, but corporate strategy, politics, and the often-messy consequences of the unethical (but technically "legal") actions of their colleagues.
In a companion piece, senior reporter Sue Reisinger writes about how law schools nationwide are finally waking up to the fact that life in-house is, in fact, quite different. And that they need to address that difference in the courses they offer, and the clinical experiences they provide. It's about time. In a period when the profession is coming under increasing scrutiny and pressure, law schools need to adapt and prepare their students for the real world. They can't simply be, in the words of Vivia Chen, my office mate and chief blogger for The Careerist (thecareerist.typepad.com), "puppy mills," churning out graduates without regard for the careers they'll eventually pursue.
And then, some in-house jobs are more stressful than others. Sue Reisinger's been a really busy reporter these days, and she managed to put together two features for this issue. In her second one, "Eye of a Storm," she writes about Elizabeth McDougall, general counsel of Village Voice Media.
It's fair to say that McDougall's is a challenging job. Her company has come under attack not for its alternative weekly newspapers, but for its website, backpage.com. Specifically, critics have targeted the sex ads that appear on the site, claiming that they aid child sex trafficking. McDougall's been vilified for defending her clienther employer. I'm not going to go into the merits of either side (McDougall, incredibly to some critics, says that the site's existence aids in tracking down traffickers). But it's a perfect illustration of the in-house lawyer's perfect conundrum. Maybe Heineman will use her situation for his next class.