In-House Counsel Perspectives: Lauren Schwartz

Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski

Working as in-house counsel for a company is one of the most coveted roles a lawyer can obtain, due to the work-life balance. However, in-house attorneys have to work in multiple areas of the law, manage and counsel business leaders, and balance budgets. In-house counsel includes attorneys of all ages, practice groups, and experiences. But they all share a commitment to excellence and to guide their companies through any and all legal issues.

Kenny: What is your full title and which company do you work for?

Lauren:  General Counsel & Corporate Secretary — cleverbridge, Inc.

Kenny: What area of law did you practice before you went in-house?

Lauren: Primarily patent litigation

Kenny: Why did you want to work as an in-house attorney?

Lauren: I was excited by the opportunity to focus all of my effort on assisting one client, while also expanding my reach beyond typical legal issues and into crafting business solutions.

Kenny: What challenges did you face when you first began working in-house, and how did you overcome them?

Lauren: The learning curve is steep moving in-house.  Having to make quick, often gut-based decisions on limited information, and be correct, and be thorough is a challenge, for sure.  The best way to move along the curve is to follow my former boss’s mantra: Trust But Verify.  Don’t take what someone is telling you for granted; dig deeper, learn more.  You’ll be glad you did.

Kenny: What is your day-to-day work like?

Lauren: Since my entire team currently works in the home office in Cologne, Germany, I typically spend my mornings on zoom calls with my team, internal stakeholders, or our corporate clients who are on European time.  Then the afternoons are reserved for in-person meetings with my colleagues in the Chicago office – or at least they were before the pandemic!  Our company is also very big on getting away from our desks over lunch, so I’ll typically take an hour or so over lunch to either connect with colleagues or sneak in a yoga class.  And somewhere between the meetings, I try to get some real work done!  Most of my time is spent drafting and reviewing contracts, but I have my hands in everything the business touches from HR issues, to data privacy and other regulatory issues, or our current return-to-work plan.

Kenny: How has your workday changed after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Lauren:  We’re still fully remote in our company on the US-side and will be for a little while yet.  Zoom has always been a part of our workday, as has working remotely from my team.  The biggest change has been the absence of seeing my US colleagues in-person.  That’s honestly been really hard because I just genuinely enjoy them all so much.  But on the upside, my schedule is more flexible so that I can spend time over lunch with my boys, or I can sleep in a little and still get a good workout in.  Saving the commuting time does have its perks!

The most profound change, however, is that I spend a lot of my time thinking about the health and safety of our employees as we navigate the pandemic and societal upheaval.  I worry about each of them. Are they healthy? Are they safe? Are they mentally feeling ok? Would they tell me if they weren’t?  How will we keep them healthy safe when we return to the office?  It’s stressful and it’s heavy, but our company has come together in such a strong and supportive way that I know the future looks bright.

Kenny: Before joining cleverbridge, you were Litigation Counsel at Groupon. How did working at Groupon prepare you for cleverbridge?

Lauren: Groupon and cleverbridge are both “teenage startups,” so to speak – both have been around for more than 10 years. The work at Groupon was fast-paced, interesting, and done with a lean staff; cleverbridge presents the same opportunity, but my scope of work is far broader now.

Kenny: A common misconception is that in-house attorneys do not need to network. Why is networking still important for in-house counsel?

Lauren: It can be easy to become anonymous once you move in-house.  Without the incentive of developing new business, you’re right, many don’t see the need to network any longer.  But that’s a mistake for two reasons:

(1) In a small in-house legal team, it’s important to maintain a strong network of both in-house and private practitioners as they are the best resource for discussing difficult questions that an attorney in a larger practice might just walk down the hall to discuss; and

(2) It’s important to keep your reputation as a stellar practitioner so that the attorneys on the “other side” – whether it be contract negotiations, litigations, or something else where your interests are not totally aligned with another entity – so they know that they’re dealing with a quality lawyer.  There’s still a common misperception that people move in-house when they can’t hack it in private practice, or that in-house lawyers don’t really practice law.  That perception is, however inaccurate, something we often need to work even harder to dispel.

Kenny: One way you network is by participating in and leading organizations such as the Richard Linn American Inn of Court. Why did you decide to get involved in these organizations?

Lauren: I was interested in the Linn Inn based on a recommendation from a friend and colleague, but I stayed in it and currently serve on the Board because of the people. I’ve never met such an impressive array of accomplished practitioners who also happen to be kind, generous, stellar human beings.  It’s a tight-knit group of peers, many of which have become my closest friends.

Kenny: Currently, traditional, in-person networking has been postponed. How have you adapted to these challenges?

Lauren:  Zoom happy hours, of course!  But really – making the most out of the contact we still do have, whether it be video-conferencing, text, email, or social media, has been critical to maintaining connection during these times.

Kenny: Many attorneys are hesitant to network virtually or use on social media. But, over the past few months, you have become a frequent contributor and commenter on LinkedIn. What made you decide to become more active on social media, and how has it helped your practice?

Lauren: That’s a really interesting question that I haven’t considered before, and you’re not the first person to comment on my recent activity on LinkedIn!  I think it’s two-fold: first, I got kind of bored with Facebook; and second, I wasn’t really using the platform to its potential to begin with, but then became inspired by a handful of individuals who I saw using it really well. Then, I wrote a few things that received some significant response and I saw the impact I could make by being vocal about the issues that matter to me.  I don’t know that it’s helped my practice per se (other than the networking element, including improved visibility of my recent job posting for someone to join my team), but it’s made me feel that I am contributing to others’ careers by shining a light on topics like the inequalities in legal practice across gender and race lines; the toll the traditional American work culture takes on our mental health; and ways that we can all be just a little more human, empathetic, and vulnerable in our daily lives.  For example, I shared a story about my son who has some behavioral special needs, and not only was the outpouring of support I received amazing, but I was truly humbled by the number of individuals who reached out to me privately to share their similar struggles within their own families.

Kenny: Do you have any tips on how attorneys can improve their social media presence?

Lauren: Approach it like anything else in your practice: make a plan. Outline what it is you want to do with your media presence, whether it’s improving your business, highlighting social causes you care about, connecting with various groups of people, sharing expertise you’ve obtained, or something totally different.  Don’t just post to post.  Think about both the messaging and the cadence, and how both contribute to your overall goal.  And proofread, proofread, proofread. (Oh, and don’t share articles that are behind a paywall without summarizing them or providing a publicly-available link – it’s super annoying and a guaranteed un-follow!).

Kenny: What advice would you give to a young attorney who is interested in working in-house?

Lauren: Be very selective about how you move in-house because not all in-house jobs are created equally!  Be sure you fully vet the job requirements, lifestyle, expectations, success metrics, team dynamics, and company financials before you take the plunge.  And while you’re still in private practice, work on as wide of an array of issues and topics as your practice allows in order to develop the skills you’ll need.  If you’re a litigator, try your hand at drafting settlement agreements, or see if you can play a role on a transaction team.  If you’re a transactional attorney, take on a pro-bono litigation case or two to hone those skills.  Generalists are more valuable in-house than specialists, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t develop broad skills within a specialized field.

Kenny: Knowing what you know now, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?

Lauren:  Buckle up, girlfriend, because it’s going to be a wild ride!  But really: be true to yourself, your goals, your priorities. What you “should” do or what’s “expected” of you doesn’t matter – you’re in the driver seat of your life and career and at the end of the day, those others are not the ones who will be living your life.  You have better instincts than you give yourself credit for, and an important voice that others will listen to.  Never miss an opportunity to use that voice for good.  Oh, and you didn’t make a total mistake by going to law school – being a lawyer is actually super fun!

 

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