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Thursday, January 5, 2017

How corporate lawyers really are

At my request I'm now working part-time for my employer. The change is a transition toward eventual retirement, and it gives me more time to pursue other interests including this blog. The piece of work that I relinquished was in my employer's law department, where I previously was responsible for our global programs on "compliance" — meaning anti-corruption laws and export controls.

In the course of those responsibilities and going back as far as the early 1980s, I have worked closely with in-house lawyers and outside counsel. Perhaps this is not a surprise, given my father's background. I never seriously entertained becoming a lawyer myself, but I did read all my dad's textbooks from law school and I've always found it easy to work with lawyers. In the process I've been exposed to at least two hundred of them. Of course, these are lawyers practicing in specific areas such as purchase and sale contracts, intellectual property, and "M&A" (mergers and acquisitions)… specialties that don't usually make their way into movie and TV portrayals that focus on criminal law, negligence suits, constitutional law, family law, and the like. But I want to offer a few video clips that remind me of the kinds of lawyers that I have worked with. You'll see no courtrooms in these clips; that's not my world. No Denny Crane, either.

I'll begin with an excellent portrayal of an eloquent in-house corporate lawyer, taken from 1982's Absence of Malice centered on Sally Field's dramatic role.

Dean Jagger won an Academy Award for his performance as Maj. Harvey Stovall, a lawyer in civilian life but adjutant to the Commanding General, 918th Bomb Group, U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The movie is 1949's Twelve O'Clock High. Sometimes a corporate lawyer's most important contribution is advising his or her client on matters that aren't strictly legal — in this case, about using bureaucracy and accepting risk. Both are abundant in real life.

As for contract negotiations, watch this hilarious scene from 1976's Network. It's satire, of course, but the dialog of the lawyers was written and played "straight". Warning, language is NSFW. I've been in negotiations that really were close to this and I wished I'd brought a 9 mm.