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Climbing the Corporate Ladder in Windy Conditions

I appreciate reader input, and this column is a direct result of the following e-mail from a Fortune 500 senior counsel in the pharmaceutical industry: "Mike, I generally enjoy your column, but I'm getting tired of reading about getting a job with law firms and electronic discovery providers. Please get back to writing about those of us who like working in-house."

Indeed, many of my 2008 columns addressed various twists on a similar theme--exploring options for unemployed inside counsel who are finding it difficult to land an appropriate position, or any position for that matter, within a corporate legal department. I understand, completely, that most of my readers' first choice is another in-house opportunity. I did not mean to convey that other options are preferable. Unfortunately, a rough economy is taking its toll on those readers who have been downsized, and for some, the challenge of getting back on the traditional path is insurmountable. So in 2009, I will continue to provide some columns that are, essentially, exercises in brainstorming strategies for readers who are out of work.

However, it is time for a column addressing inside counsel who are not only employed, but who are "doing just fine, thank you," to quote the reader's e-mail. How can you stay on track, get the raise you want and advance in a macro environment that includes fear and hiring freezes? Here are my suggestions.

First, don't be the squeaky wheel who always fist-pounds to get to the next corporate grade level. In a 2006 column about asking for a promotion (download "Money, Money, Money..."), I wrote that squeaky-wheel behavior, properly timed, is sometimes necessary to get what you want. But unless you are 100 percent certain that your position is secure, 2009 is not the proper time for anything that might be viewed as complaining. Still, that's not to say you should just keep your head down and avoid risk.

In fact, risk-taking can serve the bottom line and help create the view that you are invaluable--perhaps the primary goal right now for inside counsel trying to climb the corporate ladder in windy macroeconomic conditions. This will mean moving way outside your comfort zone with respect to how your company's legal needs are served.

Demanding lower rates from AmLaw 200 firms is an uncreative strategy that will yield lots of tension but minimal savings. The risk and reward lies in asking yourself the following question: "What work can I peel away from outside counsel altogether?" The greatest potential for cost savings usually resides in litigation. Challenge yourself to internalize as much of the work as possible. Can you or someone on your staff tackle a summary judgment motion brief and argument? Hire paralegals or use seasoned contract attorneys to help you through discovery. You can get the case dismissed or settled before trial.

For document review or even routine non-litigation work, consider legal process outsourcing. Companies such as CPA Global and Mindcrest have proven the viability of off-shoring to attorneys in India (see "The Offshore Option").

If you want to go from "doing just fine, thank you" to the next grade-level promotion, become a budget hero. Even if you work for a company with growing earnings, the fixation on cost control seems universal. I suggest you champion the cause.

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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit www.everslegal.com. His...

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