What In-House Counsel Want from Outside Attorneys

With decreased demand for outside legal services, in-house attorneys are looking for innovative ways outside law firms can bring greater value to the table. To better understand how in-house counsel selects and partners with outside attorneys, the Legal Marketing Association – Bay Area Chapter recently presented the first Silicon Valley In-House Summit, “New Realities in Delivering Legal Services.”

Robert Cullen, VP and General Counsel at JSI Logistics moderated panelists: Clare Badaracco, Assistant General Counsel, Sungevity, Inc.; Sue Gomez, Sr. Director, Sr. Counsel, SanDisk Corp.; Andy Kryder, retired Sr. VP and General Counsel, NetApp; and Eleanor Lacey, VP, General Counsel, SurveyMonkey.

This rapid-fire Q&A event format yielded non-stop takeaways, including the following:

Consider Your Marketing Strategy

The in-house panelists regularly read succinct law firm newsletters and articles by attorneys. They sometimes hire or request more outside services as a result. For unsolicited pieces that get through spam filters, Gomez deemed the “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” features necessary if the sender is to be viewed favorably. Newsletters forwarded by someone they know well may also get read.

Content sent directly to the in-house attorney trumps blogs which must be searched for on a website. Panelists rarely read law firm brochures and leave-behinds, preferring to learn about attorneys from their websites and LinkedIn.

Be Efficient and Add Value

Outside law firms bring value when they know the client’s business, their deliverables are high-quality, and they can quickly get up to speed without charging for gaps in experience.

For example, Badaracco said that while Sungevity designs, leases, finances and provides installation for solar panels, the company is somewhat like a technology startup. So outside counsel would need to understand these complexities.

Panelists confirmed that attorneys bidding for in-house contracts often haven’t spent enough time doing a thorough study of their company and its brand. In particular, attorneys are not seen as being tech savvy.

Kryder emphasized the importance of lawyers doing their homework. He saw prospective contractors misspelling NetApp’s name, and not tailoring their proposals to the needs of this company, which creates online storage and data management solutions.

SurveyMonkey, the world’s largest survey company, provides templates for customers to easily create online surveys. Lacey encourages outside attorneys to first go online and use the free survey creation service. Those who have actually done this are best prepared to partner with SurveyMonkey.

In-house attorneys want outside counsel to think of a client’s money as if it were the outside counsel’s own. This means it’s key to demonstrate to them that a project is being managed efficiently. Lacey observed that on one project outside counsel brought in 15 attorneys, which was unwarranted for such a small case.

Alternative Billing Arrangements

Panelists agreed that some standing projects done on a regular basis could be billed at a flat fee. This might be a project rate, milestone rate, or hourly rate not to exceed an agreed upon amount. All wanted to be alerted early should a project go out of scope.

When Kryder learned that internal lawyers were dramatically limiting their calls to outside counsel in order to keep expenses down on a time-intensive project, NetApp added a flat-rate retainer fee to the contract to cover general question calls. This ensured a higher quality of work.

Be a Relationship Builder

For any outside attorney wishing to cultivate in-house business, panelists recommended attorneys begin developing relationships with in-house attorneys who are at their same professional level. Lacey said she has made time for outside attorneys referred to her. The best time to cultivate such relationships is when she doesn’t have an immediate need.

Your Emotional Intelligence and Business Acumen

In addition to being analytical, the lead outside attorney in particular must be empathetic, understanding, and aware. For this, individual business acumen is extremely important. Cullen added that they must be able to make financially sound decisions and maintain a high level of confidence in the middle of stressful situations, and in front of the board and the jury.

In-house attorneys want their expectations met with predictability from the outside counsel – they should be on top of cases and communicate regularly with their in-house counterparts. Ultimately in-house attorneys seek a win-win for all.