Life on the inside of a Biglaw client gives you a very different perspective. As in-house counsel, your position in the legal machine moves from production to—at least partly—consumption. And as a consumer, you find yourself developing strong views on law firms and their associates. Each in-house counsel is surely different, but below are four general tips that will serve law firm associates well in their interactions with in-house lawyers.
1. Always know the business impact.
There’s one question in-house counsel is always getting internally: how is this going to affect our business? Accordingly, that’s a question that in-house counsel will always be asking you. So be ready for it.
There’s various ways in which this might manifest. There may be additional cost – in which case you should take the extra steps, if you can, to determine the amounts. If there are contingent costs, try to determine the likelihood they will come to pass. If there are legal restrictions on what a business can do, try to convey them clearly and with examples. Know the question is coming, think ahead, and do your homework.
2. Always have alternatives (if there are any) and a recommendation.
Good outside counsel can identify and understand a problem. Great outside counsel always comes to a call or meeting with options up their sleeve. Business people want to choose between options, even if one might seem obviously superior from your perspective. Equally, they want to know you’ve gone the extra mile to consider all the options.
Trust me, in-house counsel doesn’t want to play the “what about” game: “what about doing X?” “What about trying Y?” Give them the peace of mind that you’ve looked at the question from all angles in advance, and present them with the alternatives.
Last but not least: have a recommendation. Give your client a path forward, rather than just teeing up a hard question. They won’t always take your advice, but options and a recommendation are a lot better than a legal headache and a question mark.
3. Don’t waste time.
Young associates are often worried about taking too long researching, writing and drafting (so much so that some make the serious error of under-reporting their time). Yes – in house lawyers care about the bills, but they care just as much (or more) about the quality of the service.
From the perspective of the in-house counsel, a key part of the service is getting the necessary information not only quickly, but efficiently—so that in-house counsel can move on to their other work. Even if it takes a little more time in advance, be prepared. Then you can make your call 30 minutes, not an hour. You can make your memo half as long. (Pro tip: Don’t bury the lede – executive summaries are your friend, as are bullets.) You can deliver your comprehensive work product/analysis to in-house counsel in a way that it most helpful to them. That should always be your goal.
4. Tell us when we’re wrong.
Much as no one likes being wrong, it’s far worse to be wrong and not find out. We are relying on you to correct our misconceptions and save us from ourselves. Remember – in-house counsel has one client and mistakes count. We need outside counsel who we can trust to speak up, from the most junior to the most senior.
I know these tips may seem basic. But being a good lawyer is 90% getting the fundamentals right, and you’d be surprised how much keeping your eye on these few things will make you stand out with your clients. There’s a lot of lawyers out there, and the easiest way to lose a client is to fail to understand and respond to what they need.