Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.
“Everything old is new again.” How often we have heard that phrase, and how often we’ve seen that it’s true. Things that languish in the back of your closet sooner or later re-appear magically on mannequins in stores as the latest fashion. There are several implications for your job search in this truth.
I was at a seminar last week. As I listened to the folks talking about “best practices” for FCPA compliance, they spoke of how in the last 10 years the field had come into its own and ticked off what the best and brightest were doing. A strong sense of déjà vu permeated my thoughts as I listened, because in the early 80s, I recall talking with some of my law department colleagues about the same issues and the same recommendations and putting them into effect for my clients back then. There are more, and some better tools now, and there is a different context to the overall enforcement milieu, prevailing law and level of emphasis. Having said that, recommendation No. 1 is if you are a more “seasoned” candidate, don’t sell short what you know, as you may well find that you can teach the young whippersnappers a thing or two. You may have to adapt it to new legal developments, and you should be honest about the current state of your knowledge (which hopefully you’ve kept current), but another old saying is equally true: “Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose” (the more things change, the more they remain the same). And I would also encourage employers to recognize this reality.
But more seasoned candidates need to understand equally well the flip side of this truism: Just because something didn’t work before doesn’t mean it won’t work now. When you are interviewing, you may be asked to address a problem and how you would solve it. It can be very dangerous to your success to be unwilling to re-examine old problems and shortcomings in light of new technology or attitudes. For example, some more experienced attorneys will tell horror stories, back in the early days of e-mail and word processing, of sending clients draft agreements, only to have them re-appear in radically different and inferior form, but still allegedly as the attorney’s work product. But the new realities of law department practice, of doing more with less and reducing transaction cycle time, have generally moved toward having routine agreements available to clients on law department websites or through various document assembly packages for direct use, perhaps in response to a short questionnaire. The technology is now available to customize the templates more extensively and easily, and also to lock the documents down and limit how they can be changed once created. While not foolproof, they have helped the problem. To be unwilling to recognize those tools as a solution because of cobwebbed experiences not in tune with current developments, can brand you as the worst kind of dinosaur.
The next post will address how this aphorism applies to the less experienced candidate.