In New Attorneys We Trust: How to Make In-House Counsel Happy
September 27, 2011
Los Angeles Lawyer
In today’s economic paradigm, businesses not only are more closely scrutinizing their expenditures but are also particularly conscious of their legal fees. Nevertheless, this can work to your advantage as a new outside attorney. Since you bill at a lower rate than the partners in your firm, you may be the one who performs the bulk of the work. But fees are not the sole issue in keeping in-house counsel happy. The most important factor is establishing trust.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. The phrase “Do your homework!” may foster memories of your parents’ nagging, but knowing your client is vital to providing the best representation and will, in turn, keep in-house counsel pleased about retaining your services. Countless books and literature address the importance of understanding your client’s business, and with the advent of the Internet and other sources of social media, researching the type of business your client conducts does not pose an exceptionally difficult task. Your research will impress in-house counsel, and if your study happens to reveal a few gaps in your comprehension, then a discussion with in-house counsel will help build their confidence in your ability to properly handle the case.
DEVELOP A RELATIONSHIP. Where possible, always make personal contact. Typically, your supervisor will inform in-house counsel that you are working on the matter with them. However, before contacting in-house counsel, make sure that your supervisor has given you the authority to do so. Then set up a face-to-face meeting, preferably at their office. Do not wait for the senior partner to make the formal introduction.
Because everyone’s time is valuable, the meeting can be short and concise depending on the circumstances. Conducting business in person allows you to work together closely and enables in-house counsel to get to know and trust you.
PREPARE BEFORE YOU DIAL. Speaking to in-house counsel as a new attorney can be nerve-racking. However, being prepared before you place your phone call will go a long way in calming your nerves. Unless it is an emergency, resist the impulse to immediately return calls. First make sure you have your supervisor’s authority to contact counsel. Don’t wait hours or days before dialing, but do research the issue quickly and construct an outline of your points and any additional questions you may have. By being prepared before you dial, your return call will go much more smoothly.
INVOLVE IN-HOUSE COUNSEL. Whether you are a litigation attorney or a transactional attorney, you can involve in-house counsel with your case in a number of different ways. Who will know your client’s business better than in-house counsel?
In litigation cases, in-house counsel can help you figure out what types of questions should demand your focus during depositions, or whose depositions you or your partner should take. When you are responding to discovery, first draft a response containing all the information you have, and then ask in-house counsel to fill in any gaps. Once you are done, set up a meeting with in-house counsel to review the drafts together in person or telephonically.
Invite in-house counsel to attend depositions or mediations; if a specific issue arises of which you may not be aware--such as prior lawsuits in which the company took a specific defense (especially important when dealing with a national company)--in-house counsel can help make sure you do not deviate from prior positions.
If you are working on a dispositive motion such as a summary judgment, forward it to in-house counsel in advance of your deadline to allow for their input. In transactional matters, find out what other types of agreements your client has engaged in and what terms are most essential.
PROVIDE DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS WHEN YOU BILL. More often than not, in-house counsel will review the legal bills from outside counsel. Unfortunately, for most new attorneys, adequately describing billable tasks can be difficult. After all, most law schools do not provide a class on billing. The most important rule to remember is to use the five Ws--who, what, when, where, and why. For example, if you bill for review of medical records, state the reason why you conducted the review (such as “in preparation of damages section of mediation brief”).
Follow these key recommendations, and you’ll be on your way to keeping in-house counsel happy. Although your primary obligation is always to your firm, you’ll make valuable connections that you may need in the future.