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State of Legal 2012: Close Counts with Clients

2012 January 9
by John Wallbillich

This is day four of a quick tour of the enterprise law landscape; I promise State of Legal 2012 will end this week. But it may take three more days to do it. Day one was an overview and focused on the lawyer; day two was Cost Control 2.0, and day three was about legal tech going app-centric.

Today we look at what separates good lawyers from great ones. Increasingly, its how close you can get to clients, and what you do when you get there.

One of the main lessons you learn when you practice in-house is how much you do that is “legal” as opposed to dispensing “the law.” This is particularly so as General Counsel, when you are called upon to take on a senior management role. It’s definitely the case if you are GC in a company that views the law department as a strategic asset and not an occupying force.

When you are this close to clients, there is no excuse in not having an impact. In particular, you are in an optimum position to advance the corporate agenda, and control costs and risks in the process.

This wasn’t always the case. Let’s look at the alternatives.

The first is the historical role of outside counsel. You are called in when something happens, and you work at it with the meter running until it is done or someone yells “STOP!”

This was good work if you could get it. You were, however, playing a role in a three act play, but typically called in just before the intermission.

Contrast that with this. It’s what in-house counsel do day-in, day-out:

When you do this, you have to be close to clients. You are really working with them, not for them. You are free to solve a problem quickly and cheaply, indeed you are expected to.

The ability to create the best facts as you dispense legal advice is one key difference in the nature of the outside vs. inside practice. It’s why there are fewer memos and more meetings.

In 2012 and beyond, the better outside counsel want to get closer. If they do it effectively and efficiently, they just might be asked back. If inside counsel do not have consistent access to people they need to practice at a high level, they need to change the culture, upgrade their skills, or perhaps change jobs.

Clients like someone who jumps in and works alongside them. You get the picture.

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