The Care and Feeding of In-House Counsel

I recently attended a meeting of the Los Angeles Intellectual Property Law Association. The topic was “What Everyone Needs to Know about the Care and Feeding of In-House Counsel,” with the tagline “Especially Associates and Young Partners.”

Although the audience was mostly IP lawyers, the intelligence shared by the panelists was valuable and actionable for attorneys interested in doing business with in-house counsel. In general, the session was also relevant for any professional who wants to provide outstanding client service.

The panelists were: Janene Bassett, VP, Litigation, Fox Group Legal; Keith Newburry, VP & Chief IP Counsel, Edwards LifeSciences; Craig Holden, Lewis Brisbois, formerly in-house counsel at MGA; Kevin DeBre (Moderator), IP & Technology Transactions Practice Group Chair, Stubbs Alderton & Markiles.

The panelists explored various areas of outside/inside counsel relations. In coming blog posts, I’ll touch on each of these key topics. For this first blog post, I’m going to focus on the panel’s advice on communicating effectively with in-house counsel. Here’s the scoop.

Don’t count on in-house counsel explaining how they’d like you to communicate with them. They expect you to know things like the following:

  • Be timely with your communication. In-house counsel must keep their bosses and other departments in the loop, so they need to know about significant happenings immediately.
  • Be detailed, yet concise. In your emails and other written correspondence always include a themed sentence. Don’t just send an email that says “FYI” and attach a brief. Just like you, in-house counsel are often reading their emails on the run on a BlackBerry or iPhone and may not be able to review an attachment until they are back at their desk, perhaps hours later. Without a brief themed sentence, valuable time may be wasted, or critical opportunities missed.
  • Summarize briefs and other communications so that the in-house counsel can simply edit and forward them on rather than having to create summaries from scratch.
  • As the trusted eyes and ears of in-house counsel, it’s your job to notice and communicate non-verbal signals. For example, if a company witness appears uncomfortable or resistant in a deposition, it’s important to immediately let in-house counsel know your impressions and concerns so they can take any necessary action.

In my next blog post, I’ll share more good advice from the panel regarding building relationships and working with in-house counsel.

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