Seven ways to keep corporate counsel happy

Posted: June 21, 2017

As my company’s general counsel, I depend heavily on my outside law firms and lawyers. I value these relationships – and my lawyers do, too, since I pay their bills. I’m writing this post to help outside lawyers keep inside counsel happy.

My favorite outside lawyers:

  1. Cut to the chase.
    I pay lawyers for answers and their expertise, not to force me to walk through the entire file with them and consider every possible fact. Give me a half-dozen bullet points on an issue, including the law, the risks, the practical considerations, and – most importantly – your recommendation. If I want to drill down, I will.
  2. Involve me in the strategy.
    I don’t need to know every possible detail, but I must be involved in the strategy. Give me what I need to make an informed decision, but give me the final say in crafting and deciding the ultimate course of action. At the end of the day, my business clients will hold me accountable for the result.
  3. Keep me in the loop.
    My job is to advise the business people around me, so I need to know the potential risk or opportunity for my company. I don’t want to be tongue-tied when my CEO or the Board asks me a direct question on a legal issue or matter. What is the status of the pending matters? What are the stakes? And what potential outcomes do I need to worry about? Again, use bullets. And if I have to reach out to you to stay informed, that’s not good.
  4. Respect my time.
    Do you need me to review and approve something? Please don’t dump it on me at the last minute. I don’t like surprises and am typically scheduled to within an inch of my life.  I am juggling a lot of internal tasks that you probably aren’t aware of. Give me sufficient lead time and we’ll be good.
  5. Simplify.
    If we are involved in a lawsuit and I need to produce documents, interrogatory responses, or other information, help me execute. I know it will be time-consuming, but tell me exactly what you need (again, bullets!).  And, if you have internal firm resources that can help me with eDiscovery or document collection, I’m all ears.
  6. Make me look good.
    Is there a new law that will affect my company? Are there new state or federal decisions I should know about? What about business trends I may have missed? Send me links, cases, or news clips from time to time, and help me look smart. Bonus: when you send them along, offer to help me to deal with what’s new.
  7. Empathize.
    Ask me what my pain points are and what’s keeping me up at night. Ask me what’s most urgent on my company’s agenda. See if you can anticipate what I should be worrying about. Surprise me with relevant information.

As you can see, a big part of being a good partner isn’t just what you do for me, but how you do it. I need the relationship to be more than transactional. I need to know you are thinking about the issues impacting me and my company, and not just when I can hire you. If you do that, I’ll know you have my back, and you’ll be the first person I call when I need help. That means I will be sending more business your way.

Avi Stadler

Avi is a veteran litigator with deep experience in the financial industry, representing clients in federal and state court, arbitrations, investigations, and regulatory actions. He has handled numerous cases involving business disputes, professional liability, intellectual property, employment discrimination, and white collar crime. As a former adjunct professor at Georgia Tech and in the Emory Trial Techniques Program, he has trained hundreds of law students and law firm associates on deposition and trial advocacy.