Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.
I have really enjoyed writing this column these past few months. My editor has allowed me to comment on a number of different issues such as my favorite things about outside counsel and how partners and associates can work better together. I’ve given tips to law students and young associates and discussed why women lawyers love their careers. I’d like to end this gig with my final thoughts on what writing this blog has taught me about the legal profession and being in-house. I say “final,” not just because it’s my last blog at Chicago Lawyer magazine online, but also because, at best, I highly doubt anyone else will ever give me a bully pulpit like this again. At worst, I’d just like to be able to still work in this town.
There are lots of attorneys still out there looking for work.
Like many others lawyers, I get a call or e-mail per day from an out-of-work lawyer who is looking for a job. The experience level of the average unemployed attorney runs the gamut. Just this past weekend I met a lawyer who had been practicing for over 30 years and who is now out of work. For the most part, I try very hard to help unemployed lawyers who ask for help and you should too.
There are too many bar associations.
When you’re in a law firm, it’s relatively easy: Pick a national bar like the American Bar Association and a local bar association like the Chicago Bar Association. Then pick one “affiliated” bar association like the Women’s Bar Association. Pick one association’s conference to attend because you can’t afford the time off to attend them all. Done. But then you go in-house and you’ve suddenly got 50 additional bar associations from which to choose. In addition to being on the board of the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, I’ve either been affiliated with or attended a conference by the Corporate Counsel Women of Color organization, the National Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyers Association and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others. People get angry when you fail to acknowledge a particular organization. I’m often indignantly asked: “What do you mean you’re not going to the [insert association] conference?” “I have to work.” I sheepishly respond. Don’t get me wrong. I have met wonderful people at and learned quite a bit from all of these organizations. But am I the only one who will admit out loud that I just can’t do it all? Next year, I’m attending only one conference and that will be the conference for the “Association of Saving For My Daughter’s College Tuition” – an association that could use some renewed focus and attention.
Law firm lawyers still don’t get it; but if I were a law firm lawyer, I wouldn’t get it either.
As much as I complain about law firm lawyers, I could not be one (by the grace of God I won’t have to be one any time soon). That’s because in-house lawyers demand the impossible: “Understand my business. Figure out the law. Anticipate every possible legal issue I have or could have on earth and on Mars even if I don’t give you any details whatsoever. And don’t charge me for that!” The expectations are ridiculous. So to all those law firm lawyers I call on Friday afternoons with weekend assignments, who I ask over and over to explain a particular area of the law that I stupidly just don’t understand, and who I ask to drive out to my company’s offices in the dreadful suburbs, I raise my glass and toast you. You know who you are. Thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for teaching me. Thanks for sucking up to me. But most importantly, thanks for reading this blog. Until the next matter … farewell.