Nobody Cheers for the Umpires, 0315 SCBJ, S.C. Lawyer, March 2015, #34

Author:Evan Slavitt, J.
 
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Nobody Cheers for the Umpires

Vol. 26 Issue 5 Pg. 34

South Carolina BAR Journal

March, 2015

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Lessons for the general Counsel from baseball

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 Evan Slavitt, J.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0“[W]hen an umpire makes a good play – when he is in the right spot at the right time and makes the right call on a difficult and confusing play, nobody notices. Nobody cheers. Nobody even cares.” —Mickey Mantle and Robert Creamer, The Quality of Courage (U. Neb. Press 1999).

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The role of in-house counsel in a for-profit corporation is unusual.[1]They are both part of the company but also stand apart. They are governed by special ethical constraints and have special protections, but are often perceived by others in the organization as extraneous to the corporate mission—indeed, even as impediments. As a result, there are times when it is difficult for in-house counsel to decide how best to act.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0There is, however, another group of people who also have such a role—baseball umpires. They are there from the beginning to the end of the game, are involved in every aspect, and can even determine its outcome.2 And yet, they are still perceived as separate and apart from the game.3 Over the years, both the rules and baseball lore have come to help them carry out their job. What follows are a few that can be helpful to corporate counsel.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Nobody comes to see you play

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0For almost everyone in a for-profit corporation, the focus is the bottom line. For some, there is a direct financial interest either through commissions, bonuses, stock options or promotion. For others, profits means steady hours, overtime and continued benefits. Nor should the emotional impact be ignored. In the free market, profits are a measure of success and most employees have at least some emotional investment in the company they work for. The more profitable the company, the stronger is the perception that the employee is working for a winner.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0This inevitably creates a hierarchy of importance in the company. The more important a person is to the bottom line, the more he is perceived as a key player. In some companies, it is the sales personnel that rule the roost; in others, it is the programmers. In contrast, at the bottom of the heap, at least emotionally, are those who are perceived as ancillary or even oppositional, such as middle managers, compliance officers—and lawyers. How does this affect the way an in-house lawyer performs his or her job?

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0“The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it. If they don’t recognize you, you can enjoy your dinner knowing you did a perfect job.” —Bill Klem

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0It means that he or she must recognize that positive feedback from the organization is going to be rare or non-existent. A job well done goes unnoticed because everyone else has already assumed that t here would be no important legal issues. Thus, even if in-house counsel manages to resolve real issues using sophisticated legal and negotiation skills, that accomplishment will be invisible to the other participants.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0This can be very difficult, particularly in small or one-person law departments. In larger departments, there is still some peer evaluation; the smaller the group of peers the less real feedback one can get. Accordingly, finding long-term job satisfaction requires that corporate lawyers must learn to take pride in their own craftsmanship rather than wait for organizational validation. Further, participation in peer groups such as the Association of Corporate Counsel or in non-corporate pro-bono activities can be a substantial help.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0You are part of the playing field

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0“Umpires are literally treated like dirt because they are considered part of the playing...

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