In-house lawyers vs. outside counsel: These two types of legal experts can seem like they are a world apart, even though they excel in the same domain and speak the same professional language. Indeed, the nature of each of the two positions is vastly different, which is why it is not at all uncommon to stumble upon misunderstandings and unaligned expectations when in-house lawyers have to work with outside counsel. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
When you’re working with in-house corporate lawyers as an outside counsel, keep track of the following if you want to dodge the “lost in translation” scenario with your clients:
- Communicate well and succinctly
Contrary to some popular beliefs, being in general or in-house counsel is no plain sailing: Corporate lawyers gets swamped with a wide variety of legal issues the firm is dealing with, often at very restricted budgets. For that reason, in-house lawyers are appreciative of smart, concise, and to-the-point communication. Don’t write a 10-page long memo if all can be said in just two pages. If possible, summarise the main points right at the start and give your recommendations. Make it simple, put it in writing, and call if you need to discuss the matter in more detail.
However, being an effective communicator also means you should keep the client in the loop. Regularly touching base with in-house counsel is key to building a long-lasting and fruitful relationship. Always keep them posted on all things relevant – don’t let it slip from your mind that, after all, they are the client!
- Provide tailored and specific advice
While you might be tempted to show off your vast knowledge and expertise of the matter, the in-house lawyer is hardly going to be impressed by information that is not of any specific use to them. Quite the opposite, there is nothing as effective to put them off like offering broad assumptions and general tidbits anybody could have just as well researched on the Internet.. Needless to say, in corporate law one size does not fit all. It’s your job to be practical and provide tailored information that will respond to the company’s unique characteristics and needs. What would you do in their particular situation, under these exact circumstances? The answers to these question are what you were hired to do, and that’s what they expect you to bring to their corporate table.
- Get to know the client’s business
In line with the previous point, it is really important that you learn the ropes of your client’s business: their organisational structure, corporate culture and dynamic, as well as a general understanding of the industry and current market trends and tidings. An old-fashioned press-clipping, snooping around the Internet, and best of all, open conversations with the client as well as other industry experts will arm you with mounds of information on the particular challenges and opportunities the company has dealt with, or has yet to deal with. Use this knowledge to deepen your understanding of your clients’ needs, even those they might not be aware of yet – it is how you will strike gold with your unique contribution.
- Pay attention to budget and fees
Billing by the hour is standard, but more and more outside counsel professionals are offering alternative billing methods (like success-based fees or contingency fees) to their clients. Particularly if you’re just starting out, this may very well be the prevailing point in your favour when landing a client. Keep in mind the company needs to justify the authorised legal fees to its creditors, so it’s extremely important you predict the costs, set the expected budget as accurately as possible, and keep the fees transparent and realistic. Precision and accuracy are absolute musts because if you can’t calculate your fees right, how could they trust you to give high-profile legal counsel?
What’s absolutely key here is that you think of working together with the in-house counsel as a team. Take it from the general counsel Francis M. Drelling: “The essential takeaway here is that we do not want a consumer/vendor relationship with our outside counsel. What we want is a long-term, business-to-business partnership where you sincerely share our budgetary concerns. So much so, that, as you look over your prebills, you scratch your head and say, to yourself: How can I get these bills down?(…) My job, and our continuing relationship, depends upon your budgetary cooperation now more than ever.”