Inside Perspective: Open letter on summer intern revisited

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

My open letter to a “Could Have Been Summer Intern” (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/inside-perspective-open-letter-to-a-could-have-been-summer-intern/) generated a fair number of comments, most of which were highly critical of my remarks and my approach to handling the intern.  Most comments supported the choice made by the intern in backing out of his commitment at the last minute.

The letter did not fully set forth all of the relevant facts and circumstances of the issue.  This was a purposeful decision on my part for two reasons: (1) to protect the identities of the intern, the program, the company and any of the other players involved, and (2) because the column was intended to be a generally applicable “teachable moment.”  I am going to resist the temptation to “clarify the record,” or address specific comments in this, my 40th column.  I have never been fond of Internet slam/bash sessions and I will not engage in one now.  If anyone wishes to discuss the column in further detail, I am very easy to find and I welcome the opportunity.

Since I started writing this column just over one year ago, I have focused on a number of topics including the importance of maintaining one’s integrity and protecting one’s reputation in the legal community (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/an-honorable-calling/), the importance of networking and paying forward good deeds done unto you (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/inside-perspective-be-a-good-egg-pay-it-forward/), being professional under very difficult personal circumstances (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/inside-perspective-being-a-professional/), defending the older worker (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/inside-perspective-in-defense-of-the-older-worker/), creating a culture of compliance (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/inside-perspective-newsworthy-%e2%80%93-compliance-enhances-the-bottom-line/), intimacy in the corporate law department (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/inside-perspective-intimacy/), humility (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/inside-perspective-from-a-place-of-humility/ and https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/inside-perspective-expertise-tempered-with-humility/), “thinking” as part of the art of practicing law (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/inside-perspective-think/), “dignity” (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/inside-perspective-dignity/), team work (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/inside-perspective-teamwork-without-a-client-a-lawyer-is-useless/), balancing personal beliefs against your responsibility as in-house counsel (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/inside-perspective-balancing-personal-beliefs-against-corporate-responsibility/), being yourself, not trying to be who or what someone else thinks you should be (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/inside-perspective-be-yourself/), intellectually honest discourse (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/inside-perspective-intellectually-honest-and-intelligent-discourse/), mentoring (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/inside-perspective-meaningful-corporate-experience/ and   https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/inside-perspective-why-you-want-to-mentor/ and https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/inside-perspective-dont-take-advice-from-a-serpent/), positive thinking (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/inside-perspective-postive-attitude-happy-life/) and  professional courtesy and civility (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/inside-perspective-professional-courtesy-and-civility/).

One should easily be able to sense a common thread or theme in these topics.  Since taking the reigns as president of the ACC Chicago Chapter on Oct. 1, 2010, I have striven to improve the reputation of lawyers in the nonlawyer community.  I am very proud to be a lawyer and blessed to have the wonderful opportunity to work in a corporate environment for an excellent company with top notch people at all levels.  Through my work at the office and for the ACC, I am exposed to in-house lawyers and outside lawyers on a daily basis.

Most of the lawyers I encounter and work with are well-meaning, highly intelligent, hard working, ethical, honest, competent professionals who do not compromise their principles for short term gain.  Most contribute many hours of their time volunteering in their communities, serving in a pro bono capacity for underserved people or as little league coaches, “part-time” public  servants, advocates for noble causes, board members of charitable organizations, professional service organizations, and the list goes on.  I have seen countless instances of selflessness practiced by many legal professionals.

My goal has been to improve the reputation of lawyers by helping get the word out that lawyers are good people doing good things both in their jobs and in the community.  One of the means for my doing so has been this column and the opportunity it gives me to provide advice (or at least my perspective), sage or otherwise, to those who have yet to tread where I and my colleagues have been many times before.

And so it was with the Open Letter column.  I feel no particular compunction about the column; in fact I am quite proud of it.  I will admit that many of the comments left a sour taste in my mouth, however, I have no particular yearning to defend the column beyond these few short words.

The Open Letter column was neither meant to, nor did it in fact, vilify or belittle a generation of younger lawyers as some comments suggested.  Rather, the letter was consistent with the theme of most of the columns I have written over the past year – helping lawyers make themselves better lawyers and better people.

The column addressed one person’s lack of good judgment and some advice on how to avoid it.  At the end of the day, the actual people involved with the internship program, because of the Open Letter column, were able to have a follow-up conversation with the intern and help him understand the consequences and implications arising both from his choice to back out of the program at the last minute and the way in which he did so.  The intern justifiably expressed regret for his actions as well as a fuller appreciation for the efforts that were made by many on his behalf.  One thing he learned was to be very careful when choosing advisers.  So, the experience was a positive one for the intern.

Each one of us as in-house counsel must help in improving the culture of in-house legal departments, and the profession as a whole, one person at a time, one summer internship class at a time.  We must take every opportunity to assist those who need it in making good decisions about their careers.  The interns of today are the law department leaders and mentors of tomorrow.  If we start them off on the right path, then we will leave a rich legacy as they develop, mature personally and professionally and, in turn, take over mentoring the next generation of lawyers bringing their own set of experiences to the table.  This was the tone and intent of the Open Letter column.

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