“What In-House Counsel Wants”

In October, I attended a Los Angeles Intellectual Property Law Association panel discussion that shared insights on the challenges of and strategies for developing and maintaining successful business relationships with in-house counsel.

I attended a very similar panel in November, “What In-House Counsel Want” organized by the Jewish Federation. The distinguished panelists included:  David Burg, Senior Vice President, Litigation, NBC-Universal; Peter Hebert, Senior Vice President, Lead Counsel, City National Bank; David Hyman, General Counsel, Netflix; and Nicole Jaeger, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel, CBS Television. The event was moderated by Jonathan Anschell, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, CBS Television.

For lawyers in private practice who want to work with in-house counsel, getting in the door with a new client can be a challenge – staying there can sometimes be a bigger one.  The panelists answered a variety of questions for which outside lawyers are always seeking answers. I’ve highlighted some interesting insights below:

Why hire outside counsel?

  • Looking for specialty lawyers.  Many times, in-house counsel hires outside counsel when they are looking for a lawyer that has specialized knowledge in a particular area, particularly when they feel they’ve tapped-out their internal knowledge base or technical expertise.  This often happens when dealing with emerging technologies that in-house counsels are not familiar with.
  • Time-consuming projects.  One of the panelists mentioned that when a time-consuming project comes across their desk, they prefer to outsource the work, as it takes too much time away from other work.
  • Litigation.  For in-house counsels that do not regularly handle litigation, filing for litigation can often be a trigger point.

How can outside counsel pitch themselves to in-house counsel?

  • Unsolicited emails.  Unsolicited emails don’t typically go far; it’s much better if the lawyer knows someone at their firm who can make an introduction.  If you are going to send a “cold” email, distinguish yourself!  Ways to do this:
    • Their lawsuit is not news to them, they know.
    • If you are emailing them about one of their cases, they want an honest assessment.  They need to know the brutal, straightforward evaluation.
  • MCLEs. Provide an analysis of a recent case that is relevant to their firm.  All lawyers need to fulfill their continuing legal education, so they appreciate the offer to attend an MCLE-accredited presentation that would pertain to their industry.

How do you choose between lawyers?

  • Understanding the business model and market is key.  It’s important that outside counsel fully understands how the outside counsel legal department is handled, i.e., how cases are assigned, who handles what case, how cease and desist letters are handled, etc.  If you don’t know, ask questions: How do you like this information to be communicated? Should we interact with you or the client?
  • Lawyer vs. Law Firm.  It is very rare that in-house counsel hires law firms versus lawyers.  They want someone they can trust, who writes well and, most importantly, needs little oversight.  It doesn’t matter to them what law firm is behind the talented lawyer.
  • Clients are important to everyone.  They need a lawyer who understands their client’s expectations.  Just like everyone else, in-house counsel needs to take care of their clients.

Is the billing rate important?

  • Play it fair.  Billing rates are not so important as long as the lawyers are billing fairly.  No one likes reviewing bills.  Outside counsel wants to easily breeze through the attorney’s invoice and not have to stop and question outrageous amounts.

In conclusion, the panelists agreed that they are looking for attorneys who can be responsive, have a sense of urgency, strategize on how to save time and money and, most importantly, have someone they can trust.

-By Berbay Senior Account Manager Megan Braverman

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