Inside/outside counsel relationships: Call me and I’ll call you

The changing industry provides a good opportunity to stay connected and retain those important relationships

In-house counsel are very busy; there's no question about that. Outside counsel are also very busy. The relationships between the two are significant, and both sides agree that these relationships are important to maintain. For one, keeping the relationship fresh can lead to potential new matters, cases and referrals to other in-house colleagues who may need the same services.

For in-house counsel, it means having necessary go-to resources to tap into for brainstorming, networking and potential career advancement when the need arises. Working on these relationships is even more important during periods between active cases and matters. Strangely, outside counsel often believe that their clients are too busy to meet with them unless there is a specific matter at hand. Not true, say many in-house counsel. The ability to share insights, learn first-hand what is happening in the industry from outside counsel's perspective and to meet new members of their firms are good reasons to connect.

Lon Povich, executive vice president, secretary and general counsel of BJ's Wholesale Club, has some specific thoughts and recommendations about connecting. “I like people to keep in touch. I like them to keep in touch around matters of substance they can share with me that will be helpful to my team and me. It's more of a challenge in the in-house world to stay up-to-date than it is in a firm. So sharing changes in the law and updates for me and my team about areas of the law that impact our business can be very helpful. It's more meaningful and impactful than if it's a newsletter or blog that goes out to the world, which by its nature is not specifically focused on our issues,” Povich says.

Povich adds, “Providing updates to us about our business specifically also shows that outside counsel understand the law, understand our business, that they’ve thought about the intersection between the legal issue and the business and that they are ready to help.”

How often should outside counsel connect, outside of the day-to-day work? Povich suggests, “In terms of the relationship itself, once a year is enough to keep in touch, and it's helpful even at those meetings that they do something to demonstrate they are focused on our business and our people in addition to being good lawyers and a good law firm.”

Povich summarized his thoughts as follows: “At any ‘relationship meeting,’ substance always trumps social.”

The senior vice president and general counsel of a major pharmaceutical company had this to add: “I don't care about company or departmental newsletters. I don't care about blogs or anything like that. I base my decisions on experience, expertise and relationships. You can't build relationships through newsletters and blogs. Call me and tell me what my team needs to know; drop by and spend the time to give us updates in person and to connect. Nothing replaces that.”

Talking with clients often about important current cases or legal issues is not the same as working on the relationships outside and inside counsel have with one another. The changing industry provides a good opportunity to stay connected and retain those important relationships with one another.

Silvia Coulter

Silvia Coulter is a principal consultant with LawVision Group LLC. Reach her at scoulter@lawvisiongroup.com.

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