Although I have been in-house for almost seven years, I can distinctly remember my “detoxification.” For those of you who are unaware of this phenomenon, allow me to enlighten you.
This is the period where recovering Biglaw lawyers may experience disorientation or dissociation during their transition into in-house life, especially if the cultures of their prior employer and new employer are vastly different. In other words, there can be a period of culture shock that new in-house counsel experience.
Here are a few of my unique experiences from my detoxification.
Losing My Skepticism Of Kindness
I vividly remember my first few weeks in-house and how everyone was so nice. People stopped what they were doing, got up out of their chairs with smiles that reached their eyes, and took the time to talk. They not only introduced themselves, but they also asked questions that they undoubtedly knew would extend the conversation (as if they genuinely wanted to get to know me).
And while we all know to say, “if you need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out,” they actually meant it — and even more astonishing to my jaded self — proactively shared resources about the team, department and company with me — unprompted.
This was not just a handful of nice people. It was everyone. And I didn’t know what to make of it. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s the catch?” “What’s their angle?” “Why is everyone so nice?”
It took me awhile, but now I understand that my current company has an incredible culture — in stark contrast to the more transactional nature of firm life, where every unbillable nicety was something that had to be made up later.
Shedding Toxic Productivity
Speaking of which, I also clearly remember waking up in the middle of the night on one occasion that first week with a panicked thought that I had forgotten to bill. And during the first few weeks, I was anxious because without billing and without any work product like a brief or discovery to show, I wasn’t sure how to “prove” to my new boss that I had indeed been working.
I remember going to my manager and asking if she wanted me to send her a weekly email with what I worked on, because I used to send weekly or every-other-week updates to my former shareholders on the cases that I managed for them. I also asked for more projects. She declined, and reassured me that my plate would get full soon enough as people got to know me.
Something I have been unable to shed — checking my email right when I wake up and right before I go to bed. But I have learned to curb my need to immediately respond to emails — although I may have an occasional involuntary twitch.
Learning To Be Growth-Minded
Last, but certainly not least, part of my detoxification experience included learning to be growth-minded and not being a perfectionist. When you’re in-house and clients need immediacy, you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Without the blame/throw-someone-under-the-bus culture and CYA culture that can often exist at a law firm, I learned to get comfortable with taking risk and exercising judgment — without all the facts and data. I had to learn to let go of fear of failure and accept uncertainty and that if I made a mistake, we would address, learn and move on.
Tongue-in-cheek aside, it personally took me six months to feel settled — and there were moments in those early six months that I wondered if I made the wrong decision leaving firm life and considered a relapse. But almost seven years later post-recovery, I’m glad I stuck it out through the detoxification period.
 Please note that this post intentionally uses hyperbole to make a comparison between the stereotype of a toxic Biglaw culture and in-house but I do not intend to make light of addiction or mental health conditions.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.
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