When Jeffery Zinn went to work in late June as general counsel at Barcoding Inc., of Baltimore, it was the second time he’d been hired to create a corporation’s legal department. Zinn said he’s had “really good experiences, with choice assignments” at law firms big and small, but he considers in-house work a better fit for him.
Zinn began his legal career with Fila USA as one of three lawyers with the sportswear company based first in Hunt Valley, and then in Sparks. He learned to work in intellectual property, something he hadn’t focused on in law school but which he says the right person can pick up on the job. Companies often assume that a younger lawyer will understand technological and other IP-related issues, Zinn said, laughing. And, he enjoyed meeting such world-famous athletes as tennis stars Gabriela Sabatini and Mark Philippousis.
Wishing to broaden his experience, Zinn joined the Baltimore office of Venable, where he had the good fortune to work with Emried Cole, who served as a mentor for young lawyers. From Cole he learned an invaluable technique for drafting contracts “that balanced thoroughness with readability” and were “written in plain English.” Cole taught him to customize contracts instead of reusing previous formats, and “to create a roadmap” in drafting from the top that made both the writing and eventual reading of the contract easier.
Next, Zinn took a job with Lucash Gesmer & Updegrove, a “high-tech corporate boutique” in Boston, for the experience and for family reasons. The firm focused on representing startup companies, including those in biotech, from the MIT/Harvard communities.
When the tech bubble burst and his obligation to relatives in Boston completed, Zinn and his family returned to Maryland thanks to something he hopes inspires today’s job-seekers: ViPS, a health care analytics and information technology company in Towson, had decided not to consider applicants from outside the area. While visiting Baltimore, Zinn saw ViPS’ employment ad in The Daily Record. He answered the ad, calling his seeing of it “serendipitous” in his cover letter. That word swayed ViPS executives to consider and then hire him to start a legal department there.
Creating an in-house legal department can be difficult, Zinn said. You must win “the collective acceptance of senior management,” especially if not all members were part of the decision, he said. You must prove yourself so that “you can have a place at the table” when decisions are made.
“You need an attorney who can educate the management team about the opportunities” an in-house department can provide, Zinn said. It’s important that instead of a company having to call in a law firm to head off crises, its in-house department can offer practical solutions ahead of time, he noted.
About three years after Zinn had joined ViPS, the company was acquired by WebMD. He was glad to then be hired by the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing, where he specialized in intellectual property work, in particular software licensing and copyright issues.
Now, as general counsel of Barcoding Inc., he is again starting a law department for which intellectual property is important. The thinking is the opposite of what it would be with physical or tangible property, where you strive to slow the likely decrease in value; an in-house counsel is expected to ensure an increase in the value of his or her company’s intellectual property.
Being an in-house counsel has other challenges, Zinn said. You find yourself doing administrative work and research because you lack the support staff of a sizable law firm. “You are forced to be creative,” he said, and to work fast.
But Zinn enjoys being free of the billable-hours system, which he called “an albatross” for law firms. Also, working in-house “forces us to think of things in business terms, not just legal terms” — a challenge he prefers.
“In general, I really love being in-house,” Zinn said. He likened the task of working with other departments to “people in a rowboat rowing toward a distant shore,” needing to pull together to reach the destination.
Zinn is on the board of Moveable Feast, where he works in the kitchen and delivers food to those in need in Baltimore, and he has worked with the Association for Corporate Counsel.
Education: Swarthmore College, ’92 and American University’s Washington College of Law, ’96. Otherwise I try to learn something new every day.
Resides in: Rodgers Forge
Daily commute: Painful, but compared to others’ not so bad. Starbucks and ESPN radio get me through.
Most recent vacation: Hiking in New Mexico — lots of delicious regional foods and a second summit of Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in that state (over 13,000 feet).
Favorite books: “Class”by Paul Fussell, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, and “John Adams” by David McCullough.
Most recently read: “Snuff” by Chuck Palahniuk, “Port Mortuary” by Patricia Cornwell, and the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Favorite foods: Drunken noodles at Thai One On. Homemade roasted stuffed poblanos. Jalapeno poppers.
Hobbies: Running, hiking, analyzing my children’s baseball statistics.
Most memorable professional experience: Meeting Argentinian tennis beauty Gabriela Sabatini while in-house counsel at Fila USA Inc., just out of law school. It felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. She was breath-taking … literally.
Favorite quotation: “There comes a time when you’d best get busy living, get busy dying.”— Red (portrayed by Morgan Freeman) in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
What I like best about my current position: No two days are the same.
Most rewarding extracurricular activity: Delivering meals and volunteering in the kitchen for Moveable Feast.
Lawyer who had the greatest impact on me: Emried Cole, former Counsel at Venable LLP; even though he was a colleague for just half a year, he taught me how to make legal contracts speak to their readers. His insights have always stayed with me.