|This is a guest blog post by Michael Silverstein, Business Development Specialist, Sidley Austin LLP.|
LMA-LA's annual Conversations with Corporate Counsel event is always one of the chapter's most popular panels. The June program featured the following six in-house lawyers:
- Sam Fernandez, SVP & General Counsel, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Lisa Harrington, VP & Associate General Counsel, NBCUniversal Media
- Jennifer Ishiguro, Managing Counsel, Toyota Financial Services
- Rafferty Jackson, EVP & General Counsel, Beats Electronics
- John Kedeshian, Senior Legal Director, Yahoo
- Peter Steckelman, SVP Business & Legal Affairs, The Tennis Channel
The free-flowing conversation, moderated by LMA-LA member Theresa DeLoach (Senior Practice Development Manager, JAMS), covered a variety of topics concerning the relationship between outside and inside counsel. Some key takeaways were:
- Corporate counsel see themselves less as lawyers and more as businesspeople who bring a legal perspective to company strategy and operations. When they speak with outside counsel, they'd prefer to confer businessperson to businessperson, rather than lawyer to lawyer.
- The number one directive of in-house counsel to their outside firms is, “know my business.” Corporate attorneys want their firms to understand their businesses and industries inside and out, and proactively contact them with updates on legal issues that may affect their businesses in the near future.
- The legal profession is a relationship business. Companies hire lawyers, not law firms, and consider their outside lawyers to be part of their team. They want outside counsel who will pick up the phone when they call, or return an email promptly. And companies are loyal to lawyers who provide consistently strong service at fair prices.
- In-house counsel don't like to be sold. They don't want firms to approach them out of the blue when a lawsuit makes the news, and then aggressively pitch the company on the firm's services. If they need to hire new counsel, they will turn to colleagues for recommendations, or choose the lawyers who have put in the effort to build relationships with them (even if those relationships have not led to work in the past).
- Chambers, and other rankings, mean nothing to in-house counsel. Diversity is important in staffing.
- In-house counsel respect creativity in pricing arrangements, though only a small percentage of their billed hours are through AFAs. UK firms seem much further ahead than US firms when it comes to AFA technology, though Fenwick & West was singled out as being particularly forward-thinking.
- When it comes to marketing materials, in-house counsel say the briefer, the better. Materials should be on-point to the company's industry and succinctly discuss an issue the company is facing and how the firm proposes to address it.
- Events are a good place for in-house counsel to meet new firms and build relationships. The panelists liked events that were “cool” (Dodgers game, wine tasting, etc.), focused on their industry, or which provided free CLE.
The humorous and insightful conversation went well over the hour allotted for the discussion, and the panelists certainly could have continued on for much longer, as they rarely get a chance to be so open about their likes and dislikes when it comes to the marketing of law firms.