From the Inside Counsel, Looking Out

In-house counsel can provide significant opportunities for attorneys in private practice—if those attorneys can reach general counsel, meet their specific needs and build a long-term relationship with them.

Just how to do that was the subject of a panel discussion (“Effective Approaches to Selling and Building Relationships”) I attended at the Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum early this year. The discussion was moderated by Cathleen Flaherty, editor-in-chief of InsideCounsel magazine, and featured participants Stephen Kaplan, senior vice president and general counsel of Connextions, Inc.; Darryl T. Mann, partner at Torkin Manes, LLP; and Ron Peppe, vice president of legal and human resources at Canam Steel Corp.

Reaching general counsel

The in-house counsel participating in the discussion said the best way for private-practice attorneys to persuade them to go outside their go-to corral of outside lawyers is to customize their pitch—Show me you understand me, my industry and my issue, they said, and you just might get my business.

The general counsel also said they view trade-group events as places to meet private-practice attorneys who are familiar with their particular industry. Follow-up is important here, they added: If a private-practice attorney meets an inside counsel at a conference, and it seems like there might be a relationship there, that attorney should establish contact by e-mail afterward.

Finally, the in-house counsel noted that a CFO usually oversees their contracting and are always seeking to limit expenses, so outside lawyers pitching their services need to keep the CFO in mind as well.

Meeting inside counsel’s specific needs

In talking about actually working with private-practice attorneys, the top-line topic the general counsel discussed was billing.

They stressed that outside counsel should delineate at an engagement’s outset what they will do and how much it will cost, and let them know if they need to deviate from that. Also, they said private-practice attorneys should include in their cost estimate the expense of supplementary services like e-discovery and trial-graphics design. The inside counsel reminded their outside counterparts that though they, too, are attorneys, they work in a business context where thoroughness is not always as important as cost-effectiveness, and where lawyers and their billings are often viewed with suspicion.

Building a long-term relationship

For private-practice attorneys wanting to continue working with in-house counsel after their initial engagement has concluded, the discussion participants offered numerous suggestions:

First, they said, make recommendations regarding how costs might be reduced in a future engagement, based on lessons learned this go-around.

Too, keep in touch with general counsel and keep them apprised of new legal issues for which they might need assistance by e-mailing them a client alert when such an issue arises. These communications should be to-the-point, provide information beyond the issue itself (e.g., analysis or predictions), and be clear to a business audience as well as a legal audience. Most importantly, client alerts should be tailored to their recipients.

Lastly, if a private-practice attorney would like to work with a company long-term, Connextion’s Stephen Kaplan recommended establishing relationships not only with the top inside counsel, but also with their subordinates. Often, Kaplan noted, there is a large age gap between those two parties, and the younger in-house counsel respond better to pitches that employ data—specific, quantifiable results from past engagements.


-By Berbay Principal Sharon Berman

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