The concept of an outside counsel can sometimes conjure the image of a disconnected consultant that is meant to be tapped only when something within their realm of legal expertise pops up. But in a conversation with Chris Edwards, capital artner at Winston and Strawn, former J.P. Morgan Chase President, Heidi Miller, this model is not only inefficient, but easily remedied.
During one of the opening sessions at the Women, Influence and Power in Law conference in Washington, D.C., Miller and Edwards discussed the synergies that emerge when companies become more involved with their legal counsels. She gave advice on more effectively using business line counsel and on what a GCs and c-suite members can do to get more out of their counsels.
Speaking from her experience as president of J.P. Morgan Chase Miller said, “The role of my lawyer was extremely important to me and it was my observation that not every company sort of thinks of their lawyers as their business partner. Usually lawyers sort of report to the GC even if they’re attached to a line of business.”
Miller recalled a situation where one business line counsel had been working for the company for 25 years. While he had an intimate knowledge of the applicable law and the business, he had never been invited into a staff meeting. “I changed that immediately which totally freaked this guy out,” Miller said. “How could you be developing product and not have a legal counsel sitting next to you saying ‘that could be illegal’?”
Miller emphasized the importance of involving lawyers with the conversations to give them context versus using them only as a tool to overlay already made business decisions with applicable law. Doing so elevates business line counsel to a business partner.
“There are some lawyers that feel uncomfortable being the partner, they are super well educated and they go in and they can tell you the law in very black in white,” Miller continued. “A legal business partner is someone who can help you interpret a law to help you make an assessment on what kind of decision you want to make.”
Investing in your outside counsel and shaping them to become a more valuable thought partner is certainly an option to consider for GCs looking having the best legal advice possible.