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A few years and jobs ago I found myself alone on the bridge of a commercial fishing boat in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska, in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the night, in the middle of 25-foot seas. I was reporting a story, and the exhausted captain and crew I was writing about asked me to take a two-hour watch and keep the boat on course while they slept for the first time in two days. Staring up at the radar screen, then out at floodlit mountains of seething waves, I wondered, “What the hell am I doing here?” Last year I found myself alone in a San Francisco office waiting to interview a general counsel for the first time. Though my footing and stomach were steadier, a familiar question resurfaced: “What the hell am I doing here?” ‘UM, INTERESTING’ I came to Corporate Counsel because the crossroads of law and business looked like an interesting place to spend some time. I really didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I had my doubts about how much I would enjoy the job. It didn’t help that when I told folks I was going to cover in-house lawyers, I got unenthusiastic responses ranging from, “That sounds, um, interesting,” to a cocked eyebrow. But a few minutes into that incipient conversation with Stephen Pickett, general counsel of Southern California Edison Co., the answer to my recurring question became clear, and my doubts retreated. Pickett was in the thick of the California energy crisis. His company — the place he’d spent his entire career — teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, and the state on the edge of darkness. Pickett had a gripping story to tell. He told it eloquently and — I thought — for a lawyer, forthrightly. There was some real drama here. And, like any good story, his was part of a much larger one. Corporate law departments are full of good stories. The problem is that the lawyers don’t always like to tell them. When I covered Congress and the White House, somebody was always willing to say something, even if they really said nothing. Writing about corporate counsel and depending on them as sources can be, to put it euphemistically, challenging. Between their crazy schedules, formidable PR departments and a mistrust of the press (wholly unfounded, by the way), merely getting GCs on the phone can be like trying to track down Howard Hughes. And that’s a shame, for their stories often hold useful lessons, insight or just intense interest for other GCs. For a recent 15-minute conversation with one midsize company’s GC, I was routed through two in-house PR people, someone in investor relations, and an outside PR firm, then was told to submit a list of questions to all of them. But some GCs are truly gifted in the ways of spin. I’d conduct what I thought was a great interview, get back to the office, look at my notes and realize that none of my questions had really been answered. So, I learned to tell GCs that here was a chance to tell their stories clearly, to their peers. EDUCATION VÉRITÉ And, for my sake and the magazine’s, the chase has almost always been worthwhile. I’ve gotten to know intensely sharp men and women who care deeply about their companies and who actually seem to enjoy their work. It’s often a far cry from the cynicism and burnout that afflicts a lot of law firms these days. And through trips to businesses across the nation, I’ve learned firsthand just how vital good in-house lawyers are to a company. This kind of constant education vérité is why many of us become journalists in the first place. (Although, come to think of it, firing questions — often personal ones — at complete strangers is an odd way to make a living.) I’m heading to Colorado to pursue fatherhood and a book on fly-fishing, but I’ll continue to contribute on occasion to Corporate Counsel. And hopefully someday I’ll again be asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” and be as pleasantly surprised as I was a year ago.

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