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Leslie Gordon is a freelance writer in San Francisco. Be responsive. Understand our business. Oh yes, and make me look good. These are just a few of the things that GCs want from outside law firms handling their company’s legal chores. Other things on in-house wish lists: weekly check-in phone calls (for free, of course), smart and hungry junior lawyers on the account and word processing services on the house. GC California magazine called general counsels from a variety of companies around the state and asked them to provide one piece of advice they’d give to a law firm partner who’s been newly hired to handle their company’s legal work. Other GCs might want to jot down some notes and have them ready the next time you need to find new outside counsel. Listen to the client. It’s that simple. Too many outside lawyers make assumptions that they understand the milieu in which to apply their skills. They’re too quick to charge out the door to get started instead of listening to the situation and what we want done. My one wish would be for outside lawyers to actually take a little time to understand our situation and not be so on fire to start the project. — Christine Helwick California State University, Long Beach The partner should ask the GC, “What can I do to enable you to make better decisions?” The partner should provide actionable advice, understand the business, understand the industry, have a sensitivity to the internal workings of the company and understand that it’s not about the partner — it’s about the client. — Stuart Pardau JD Powers & Associates, Westlake Village Adapt to my reality. Being general counsel for a company is a much higher-stakes game than it used to be. There’s a new compliance culture that’s focused on accountability, which strains internal resources. I want the partner to understand that I have to increase productivity, contain costs and accomplish more with less. — Mary Clark Examen, Sacramento Think of yourself as a member of a team, not as a service provider. People on both sides need to make an investment in the relationship. For the [outside] lawyer, that means spending time getting to know the people and the business, which may not be billable. For the GC, it means integrating the partner and the law firm’s team with your staff. That may be billable. In the long run, you’ll get a better quality of legal work and it saves money because communication is more efficient. When things go wrong, it’s usually because of poor communication. But first you need to know and trust each other.” — Christopher Nordquist Red Envelope, San Francisco Put a high-energy, smart young partner or senior associate on the account who can form a relationship with the in-house attorneys below the GC. — Marcia Sterling Autodesk, San Rafael Provide a high level of service — which includes responsiveness and quality — from the outset because the first impression is the lasting impression. This is not rocket science. If the outside lawyers are not there to take my call or if they mess up on a project — either in timing or substantively — it colors my opinion. I’ve had situations happen where the partner wasn’t there to take my call or the quality of the work was poor. When the next project came up, that firm didn’t get the nod. Once you’ve established a relationship, it’s easy to forgive. But you never get a second chance to make a first impression. — David Hyman Netflix, Los Gatos Understand our business because our legal work is just one more avenue for attaining our business objectives. — Louis Lupin Qualcomm, San Diego First, know your client. Second, pick up the phone and call the client once a week. Our primary outside counsel is one of the most accomplished lawyers in Silicon Valley. My company is not Cisco, Sun Microsystems or Apple. But he still calls me once a week, which has made a huge difference in the quality of his representation. It helps the overall gestalt of the relationship. — Noah Mesel Riverstone Networks, Santa Clara Look at every project from the perspective of an in-house attorney. Outside counsel fees are a huge burden, exceeding $500 an hour. I hate getting nickled and dimed for photocopies, faxes and, my favorite, word processing. For that kind of money, you’d hope they could fold those costs into the hourly rate. — Nicolas Thakar Tower Records, Sacramento Be responsive. There’s nothing worse than giving an assignment and providing a realistic ETA and then not having the partner deliver. When they don’t perform, the GC looks bad internally. Recently, we were negotiating a contract and a lawyer said she’d meet a certain deadline. I told others in the company who then arranged their schedules and expectations around the promised deadline, which she didn’t meet. Basically, the line between internal and outside counsel should be as invisible as possible. When something goes wrong, you can’t blame outside counsel. You have to be where the buck stops. Law firms should understand that. — Lisa Babel GoldenGate Software, San Francisco Make sure the roles of the general counsel and the outside lawyer are clear. Is the GC a decision maker? A second set of eyes? A confidante to call and say, “There’s a problem”? These roles vary from GC to GC and from matter to matter. If the roles are not clear from the beginning, there’s a danger of tripping over each other or duplicating efforts. When outside lawyers learn about the engagement, they shouldn’t forget to ask the GC, “How will you fit in?” A major role of outside counsel is to make inside counsel look good. The second golden rule: GCs hate surprises. — John McGuckin Union Bank of California, San Francisco Approach my problem thoughtfully and with practicality and efficiency. Those are three key elements to building trust in what should hopefully become a long-term relationship. Some lawyers think they need to pull out all the stops and come up with wildly novel ideas. I’m not interested in creating novel law. I want a lawyer who thinks about my problem and is practical and efficient. I don’t need a circus sideshow to demonstrate how smart they are. I also don’t like lawyers who talk off the cuff without thoughtful consideration. I don’t need all the answers right now. I’d prefer they take time to think about my problem and formulate a strategy. — April Ammeter DirecTV, El Segundo Be sure you understand our expectations and that you’re delivering value. The partner should regularly ask whether the firm is meeting our expectations. It’s easy to say, harder to do. Each client has a different definition of delivering value. But they’re all after results, a high-quality product, responsiveness, timeliness and efficiency. — Harry Yohalem California Institute of Technology, Pasadena Make sure you really understand the company’s business and its needs and interests. Don’t assume you know what you need to do for them. Don’t assume you know what the client is looking for. One of the reasons we try not to use too many law firms is because it takes time for a law firm to understand our business, which, of course, results in expense. — Murray Simpson Franklin Resources, San Mateo Win the cases you are assigned. Bring your matters in under budget. Share some of the risk with us in the fee arrangement. Don’t raise your rates to cover increasing costs. Do what we do and try to reduce those costs. Communicate regularly. I don’t want any surprises. Be a strategic partner with the in-house counsel. Understand our business, the competitive environment and risk tolerance. Don’t just show up when the big case surfaces. Instead, keep us posted on legal changes that affect our business. If you don’t have the expertise or staffing, don’t fake it. Send us to someone who has what we need. — Craig Nordlund Agilent Technologies, Palo Alto

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