Our Legal Bizzle is an in house commercial/contracts lawyer, mostly doing outsourcing work. He spends his days arguing with sales managers and tries to work as much Latin as possible into his contracts. In the evenings, he blogs passive-aggressively at The Bizzle. He also tweets.
His answers to my questions:
1: What is your most favourite part of the day?
I like to get into work early, when there’s not many people around (I work in an open-plan office, by the way). I read the sports pages of the newspaper, then I check emails, FB, and Twitter – I write in the evenings, so I’ll tweet the previous night’s post if there is one, and check what’s new on blogs that I like (and some that I keep an eye on for other reasons). It eases me into the day slowly, and gives me some time for myself before I have to start dealing with other people’s crap.
2: What is the worst kind of person you ever sat next to on a flight?
Ah, I think that I’m someone else’s answer to this question – I’m big and clumsy, and I can’t sit still. Once, when you could still smoke on planes, I lit a cigarette and watched in horror as the end of the match flicked off and landed on the trousers of the man next to me, burning a substantial hole. He asked to be moved. If I could have jumped out of the plane right then, I would have.
3: Were you ever in a situation where you came up short with a good come back? You can give it now!
I think that l’esprit d’escalier is an occupational hazard, because you just can’t prepare for every point that the other side raises (not in the least because sometimes they are absolutely barking). So about half an hour after every negotiation I think of the killer point on a key issue.
Then there’s those other negotiations that in house lawyers have to do, with sceptical colleagues in sales and HR and so on. Although in those cases the killer lines are perhaps best left unsaid…
Anyway, now that I have been able to use the phrase “l’esprit d’escalier” in a meaningful way, at least one of those ghosts has been laid to rest.
4: Which trial/case still haunts you till today?
Because I’m a transactional lawyer, I don’t do much contentious work. But there’s one negotiation in particular that I still lose sleep over.
We’d been doing business with a large retailer for a number of years, and we’d almost completed a renewal when their lead rep left their business. They immediately pulled the contract that we’d been negotiating for three months, and insisted (without explanation) that we start again using their standard terms, which were badly drafted and horribly one-sided.
We protested, but to no avail. Their lawyer became increasingly obnoxious, talking over me and becoming angry when we raised points that they had been happy to agree to only a couple of months earlier. It’s obviously a tactic, but I let it get to me and dug my heels in more than I might otherwise have done.
After two meetings, they walked away from the deal completely, claiming that we were too difficult to do business with. They were the difficult party, of course, and it was clear that they had been deliberately stalling so that they could get a deal elsewhere. But I was insistent enough on our own position that I made it too easy for them to make that claim.
It’s obvious, but I still needed to learn the hard way – leave your ego at the door of the negotiating room, and when the other side gets rough, suck it up.
5: If you have a blog, how did you get started? Who or what inspired you to blog?
I wanted to blog for years, because writing is what I do (in house lawyers do much more than contracts) and I’m interested in the challenge of trying to write something that people would find interesting for itself rather than because they have to read it. I had no idea what to write about, though, because I don’t do exciting contentious stuff or deal with developing law.
Reading blogs like Baby Barista and Magic Circle Minx made me realise that writing about the business of law, with all of the bizarre characters that make up the profession, could be fun. And more than anything else I found the example of Melanie Hatton at In-House Lawyer to be inspiring, because she showed how an in house lawyer could write engagingly about the intersection between law and business.
The other trigger was Twitter. Working in house in the frozen north, I don’t have the network or profile that I might have in a big firm or in a sexy practice area, and I wanted to blog anonymously (sort of – I’m sure that anyone could break the code without too much trouble). Without the opportunity that Twitter provides to connect with other lawyers (and even normal human beings), and still control my profile, I almost certainly wouldn’t have started the blog.
6: Did you end up in the profession of your childhood dreams?
Not at all – it would never have occurred to me to be a lawyer, and I was into science subjects all the way up until I lost interest at university. For a while after that I wanted to be a journalist (which I guess is another inspiration for the blog), but I didn’t do a great deal to make it happen. I fell into the law pretty much by accident, after some years of unmotivated drifting, but when I did it was like coming home. I now feel very much like I ought to have wanted to become a lawyer when I was a child and a student.
By the way, I don’t regret this at all. Doing a non-law first degree, and working in non-legal jobs for a number of years, turns out to be invaluable preparation for becoming a lawyer, especially an in house lawyer. I would be a much diminished practitioner without that experience.
7: Have you ever dozed off during a lecture or meeting?
Many years ago, in my first week in a call centre job, I was sat with an experienced agent to listen to how they handled calls. Sat in a warm office after lunch with nothing to do but listen to sales authorisations, I lapsed into unconsciousness within five minutes. For some reason, they didn’t fire me – which was lucky, because I got my first legal job with the same company.