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Going Over to the Business Side of the Fence

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					RECRUITER Q & A                                                                                         www.lawcrossing.com      1. 800.973.1177
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                             Going Over to the Business Side of the Fence
                             [By A. Harrison Barnes]
                             Several years ago, I was at a seminar and a brilliant lawyer introduced himself to the group. The lawyer had recently retired;
                             however, he had spent the better part of his career working for a major motion picture studio. He was a Harvard Law School
                             graduate and one of the most relaxed and carefree attorneys I had ever met. He lived in Malibu, CA, on a street where I
                             estimate the houses ran somewhere around $5 million and up. He was so “unlawyerlike” that I approached him and asked
                             him what sort of law he practiced. I had never met an attorney like him.



The man was very happy but often mumbled            attorneys about their careers. There is a rare      If you take a hunting dog out in a field and
to himself from time to time as he thought. I       breed of attorney out there that does not           show it a tennis ball, the dog will likely
do not think he had ever been married, and          practice law and simply practices business          start shaking out of excitement. The dog
he had a lot of presence, but it was not the        in an advisory capacity inside corporations.        will know that if you throw the ball, it will
sort of presence a law firm or corporation          In many respects, I believe this is one of the      have the opportunity to chase it and return
would want to show off to the outside world.        rarest sorts of attorneys out there. It is as       it to you. The dog is like this because it is
He also was not the savviest dresser; for           if these attorneys are taking the skills of         in its blood. The dog is bred to chase, and
example, his socks did not match. Moreover,         the best litigators (oratory skills, the ability    psychologically, emotionally, and in every
he did not seem to have the best hygiene. He        to read people, the ability to understand           other way, it wants to chase the ball. Some
probably shaved and/or trimmed his beard            the motivations underlying what people              hunting dogs, such as Britney Spaniels, will
no more than a couple of times per year.            are thinking, and the ability to package            chase balls over and over again until they
                                                    and market ideas) and corporate attorneys           die. Their love of the chase is so strong that
What made the man interesting to me was             (the ability to understand business issues,         it is quite literally in their bones.
that whenever he said something or made             the ability to see small details and their
an observation, he seemed dead-on. He               significance, and the ability to negotiate          When an attorney who is more interested
would watch people in our group and make            effectively) and combining them with an             in the business side of things is presented
observations that were incredibly accurate.         understanding of forces that operate in the         with any legal issue—be it a case or a
                                                    market and how they shape events.                   transaction—he or she is likely going to be
“I practiced for one year at Irell,” he told me.                                                        most interested psychologically, emotionally,
“Then I went to work at a major studio. They        The purpose of this article is to examine the       and in every other way in what is going on
very quickly figured out I was not that good at     characteristics that make someone a good            from a business point of view. If it is a drug-
practicing law but had a real knack for very        attorney-businessman. The better you are            dealing criminal case, the attorney will most
good opinions about what the other side was         at something (e.g., business or the practice        likely be concerned with questions about how
going to do in a negotiation. Essentially, all      of law), the more likely you are to move            much the dealer paid for the drugs, the profit
I did throughout my career was spend the            toward doing it. For the attorney desiring to       he or she sold the drugs at, and the chain of
majority of my time writing memos about             go in-house, I think this is an exceptionally       possession in terms of where the drugs came
what I thought the other side was going to do       important examination of a very important           from. This type of attorney might even think
in a studio negotiation—just my opinions and        topic. If you have no business on the business      in terms of cost-benefit analysis and reach
no law. In fact, I got very rich doing this.”       side of things, you are in for trouble and will     conclusions about the efficacy of dealing
                                                    likely not do well. If you have a good head for     drugs as a business venture.
He went on to tell me that he had been in           business, you should be in-house.
magazines like Vanity Fair and that he had                                                              You see, some people are born to do certain
frequently attended parties and befriended          Below, I will describe the major                    things, and others are not. It is all about what
numerous stars. He would mumble about               characteristics of the attorney who belongs         you love. I like to do yoga, and at the studio
how so and so was crazy, so and so was              on the business side of the equation.               I go to, there are a bunch of people who get
generous, and so forth. He was almost, in                                                               up at 4:00 a.m. every day to go there to do a
many respects, like a comic jester of sorts—a       1. The attorney who belongs on the                  special type of yoga. For the time being, this
very interesting person to have around.             business side of the equation is more               is not something that appeals to me in the
                                                    interested in the business elements of what         slightest, but for others it is.
Throughout my career, I have met thousands          is going on than he or she is in the legal
of lawyers and counseled thousands of               implications.

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If you really, really want to be on the           Working as an asphalt contractor is tough,         of mistake I have often witnessed occurs
business side of things and you belong            and it requires a lot of street smarts and         when the attorney has a lot of small clients
on the business side of things, then you          hustle. This was the best experience I ever        who are primarily entrepreneurs with little
should already be there. You most likely are      had, and it taught me a lot.                       education. Such entrepreneurs are often
spending the majority of your time thinking                                                          very impressed by the credentials of the
about the business side of what you are           Having a business background, being a legal        attorney and will turn to him or her for all
doing. You probably have also been attracted      recruiter, and also being an attorney have         sorts of advice. Their lack of education will
to the business side of things for a long, long   given me the ability to see attorneys from         make them more prone to using the advice
time anyway and do not need anyone to tell        these various perspectives. One thing that I       of attorneys than they might otherwise be,
you this is what you want. Just hearing about     have clearly noticed is that the ability to be     and the attorneys giving advice to these
the business side of things should conjure up     good at practicing law does not translate          entrepreneurs will often very quickly become
many ideas in your mind about what you can        into the ability to be good at business, and       disillusioned that they are smarter than
accomplish with the problem at hand.              vice versa. I have seen countless attorneys        their clients and would have much greater
                                                  from top law schools and firms go into             success running their clients’ businesses.
Conversely, I can always spot “true lawyers”      business with arrogant attitudes, assuming
because whenever they hear about an               that the ability to be a good businessperson       I used to spend a lot of time flying small,
issue, their minds start running to all the       is similar to the ability to practice law. In my   single propeller airplanes. In Los Angeles,
legal implications of whatever is involved;       experience, nothing could be further from          where I live, there are a lot of people who
that is where their minds go instinctively.       the truth. With only some exceptions, I have       own jets. Jets are very, very expensive, and
You cannot fake this kind of passion, and it      met few attorneys with good business skills.       a decent one costs at least $6 million, if it
goes without saying that there are certain                                                           is small; then you need to pay thousands of
people who really belong on the legal             Attorneys, however, often believe that they        dollars per hour to fly it, store it when you
side of whatever they are doing. The law          have good business skills. More often than         are not flying it, maintain it, overhaul it once
is fascinating to them, and their minds           not, they end up giving clients other advice in    every year, pay for insurance, and pay for
simply work like that. This is a good thing.      addition to legal advice, eventually coming to     the pilot’s salary and lodging wherever you
It demonstrates why an attorney should be         believe that they know what they are doing in      travel. (Most of the guys flying around in
practicing law to begin with. If your mind        the business arena based on this association.      these things have their own private pilots.)
does not work this way, you should not            When a company or person is being
be practicing law—especially if you are           counseled by an attorney, the attorney and         Small airports are small communities. There
passionate about the business side of things.     his or her advice is often only a small part of    are usually a couple of guys who operate a
                                                  the equation, however. There are numerous          fuel truck or man the pump at the airport.
2. The fact that you are good at law does not     factors that the company and others will rely      In flight schools, the instructors and others
mean you are good at business; you need to        upon in reaching a decision and, most often,       know who owns which plane, for example.
understand both fields before acting.             the attorney’s advice will be a smaller part of    When I consider the many private jet owners
                                                  the equation.                                      I have encountered over the years, I do not
From the time I was 8 years old until                                                               think a single one of them was an attorney.
the time I was 6 years old, I spent my           Remember that the fact that you are good at        Rather, they were guys who owned car wash
summers, and virtually all of my free time,       one thing does not mean that you are likely        chains, ran phone book printing operations,
working as an asphalt contractor. This            to be good at another. Attorneys are typically     manufactured rolls of aluminum for sale to
position involved going out and selling           quite risk averse, always looking for ways         China, manufactured cardboard boxes for
asphalt services to homeowners, then to           to preserve what is already there. Business        television sets, and did other similar things.
businesses, and, eventually, to cities. I was     people may or may not have some of the
very good at this, in many respects. It was       same objectives; however, they are also most       Most of these guys had very little education,
only by accident that I did not end up doing      often concerned with expansion, catering to        and when they did, they generally had gone
this for a living. I was so convinced that I      other people’s interests, and getting more         to schools that would not impress most
was going to do this that I was applying to       business.                                          attorneys. Most of these guys also had big
master’s degree programs in construction                                                             law firms like Latham and Watkins and
and asphalt management my last year of            Before you jump in on the business side of         Skadden Arps working for them. Most of
college and only ended up taking the LSAT         the equation, you need to make sure that           these guys probably had not worked in law
at the last second—in March of that year.         you understand what you are doing. One type        firms like these, and most of the attorneys


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in these law firms could never have done the        There are a hell of a lot of easier ways to        If you are brilliant enough and have enough
things these entrepreneurs were doing; it is        make money than by being an attorney.              wits, you can find these sorts of jobs, and
simply a fact. Even if an attorney is good at       Would you believe that there are tons of           they are somewhat plentiful. People seem
one thing, he or she is not necessarily going       people out there with no knowledge of              to love these sorts of attorneys in the Los
to be good at another. Being an extraordinary       medicine making $500,000+ annually selling         Angeles area, for example. I once knew a guy
businessperson is very different from being         pharmaceuticals to doctors? There are also         who worked for a studio mogul and spent
an extraordinary attorney.                          tons of auto dealerships at which the average      most of his time negotiating with architects,
                                                    sales associate makes more than $5,000           art dealers, and others for the mogul. He
3. If you thrive on expansionist (as opposed        per year, and you cannot stay employed at          made an exceptional living. I have also
to reductionist) thinking, you are likely to be     these dealerships unless you do, too.              seen countless attorneys leave lucrative
a good businessperson.                                                                                 partnerships in law firms to go in-house and
                                                    People who are most interested in making           work inside companies in advisory roles.
A good attorney will reduce things to their
                                                    money often do not belong in the practice          The ones who truly have business skills very
essentials and parse the facts out for
                                                    of law. If you are good at practicing law and      quickly leave the practice of law.
display. Conversely, a good businessperson
                                                    truly enjoy it, you may make a lot of money
will lay out the facts, as well, but will also
                                                    doing it—but the interest in simply making         If you want to be treated like a lawyer,
think about how to grab onto the most facts
                                                    money is generally most appealing to people        respected like a lawyer, and turned to for
and make them into something significant,
                                                    on the business side of the fence.                 advice like a lawyer, the best-kept secret
asking himself or herself, “What can be done
                                                                                                       out there is that you should go in-house and
to make this bigger and better?”
                                                    Conclusions                                        work inside a corporation—and then get
                                                                                                       yourself on the business side of things. The
If you are the latter, you likely know it. If you
                                                    Do you belong on the business side of              role of an attorney in-house is often not a fun
are unsure, that should tell you something
                                                    things? You need to reach within yourself and      one. Unlike other sorts of attorneys (such
right there.
                                                    ask questions relevant to deciding whether         as those working inside law firms), in-house
                                                    this is really for you. If being on the business   attorneys usually are not cherished assets
4. If people imagine you in business and not as
                                                    side of things is for you, the chances are         to their organizations. In-house attorneys do
an attorney, this should tell you something.
                                                    very good that you already have an innate          not generate revenue for their companies;
                                                    interest in business and are drawn to it on a      instead, they spend the majority of their
People who should be practicing law are
                                                    cerebral—and even a spiritual—level.               time telling the management and others
often quite recognizable to others. People
                                                                                                       within the organization why they cannot do
who are supposed to be attorneys will hear
                                                    Being on the business side of things does          the things they want to. When you are on the
other people say they “look” and “seem” like
                                                    not necessarily mean more opportunity. For         business side of things, you can push to do
attorneys. People who belong in business
                                                    a good attorney, there is more opportunity         certain things that will actually expand the
will hear people close to them saying the
                                                    practicing law if that is what he or she is        business you are working in.
opposite. If you belong in business, you will
                                                    most interested in; however, for an attorney
have heard people say so.
                                                    who is interested in the business side of
                                                    things and finds them more interesting than
5. If you went to law school to make money,
                                                    practicing law on a day-to-day basis, an in-
you may belong in business.
                                                    house job is often the very best ticket.




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