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Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, All you gotta do is call, And, I’ll be there, Yes, I will. You’ve got a friend. – Carole King Lately, I have been getting unsolicited advice from folks I’ve never met. My computer recommends literature and music; my television tells me what to eat to lose weight; and my mailbox is chock full of suggestions on how I can get rich quickly. I seldom take any of this advice. I do take the advice of my trusted friends, which brings me to the point of my column. In-house counsel should not hire the most inexpensive outside counsel or the most well-known outside counsel. Instead, in-house counsel should hire a trusted friend. Technology has done much for the practice of law, but it has disadvantages. Technology does nothing to build trust. I wonder how many in-house counsel have hired outside counsel without ever meeting. E-mail and facsimile have replaced meeting and talking, and it is a shame. When I first began to practice law, lawyers knew their corporate clients. Once, when I was a young associate at a large Texas firm, a small, dapper, elderly gentleman sauntered into my office and sat himself down in my only client chair. He stared at me for a couple of long minutes before speaking. When he finally spoke, he introduced himself; he told me that he always liked to meet the lawyers who represented him “face to face” to get to know them. “After all,” he said, “… what darn fool would take the advice of a man who he’d never met?” The old man was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Texas and one of the most important clients of the firm. So, how can in-house counsel hire lawyers who are trusted friends? Permit me a few pointers. � Get Out More: Too few in-house counsel participate in the activities of their bar associations. Bar activities are a wonderful way for in-house counsel to meet outside counsel and learn more about the legal community. In-house counsel who manage litigation should get to know judges before they have cases before them. Most bar associations sponsor bench-bar conferences. These conferences are an excellent way for in-house counsel to meet outside counsel and judges. Socialize with outside counsel. You will learn more about your lawyers and how their firms function. When invited to firm-sponsored events, go and make mental notes. Ask outside counsel to attend events with you. Social situations lend themselves to building friendships; conference calls do not. � Know Your Lawyer: What do you know about your outside counsel? The more you know about your outside counsel, the better equipped you will be to manage them. Furthermore, some lawyers and firms may be exceptional in one area of the practice but mediocre in another. It is important to understand and appreciate your lawyer’s place in his firm and what motivates him. A lawyer with nothing left to prove may be a poor choice for a corporate client who demands plenty of hands-on attention. Human nature tells us that all things being equal, outside lawyers want to work for corporate clients whom they like. Rest assured that in the competition for firm resources, likeable clients usually triumph. I have a client who never forgets my birthday. He always sends a card. It is a small gesture that reminds me annually that he is my trusted friend. LAUGH AND CRYShoot Straight: Most people do not lie to their trusted friends. Outside counsel cannot be effective unless in-house counsel shoot straight with them. If an in-house counsel keep facts and documents from outside counsel, the consequences can be severe, and legal advice based on incomplete information is unreliable. You must have a relationship of trust and confidence with your lawyer, and if you doubt outside counsel’s integrity, it is time to make a change. � Who Brought You?: Trusted friends support one another in times of turmoil. If outside counsel is doing his best, then in-house counsel should not change lawyers in the middle of a matter. This is particularly true in complex litigation where there can be temporary setbacks over the life of a suit. Changing counsel in the middle of a suit usually produces a bad result. If your lawyer is your trusted friend, you can weather some bad results and likely get a case back on track. � Climate Control: Some clients are legendary for their tyrannical reactions to legal advice they don’t like. This is unfortunate because outside counsel will be less than candid with in-house counsel under these circumstances. But trusted friends are candid with each other. In-house counsel get poor information with threats and abuse of outside counsel. Fear may motivate your lawyer temporarily, but friendship is forever. � Make an Investment: Getting advice from a lawyer is a little bit like borrowing money from a friend, and tactics designed to deprive outside counsel of fair compensation are like ignoring a friend when he wants to be repaid. Third-party payees and legal audit firms complicate the relationship between in-house counsel and outside counsel. If you do not trust your outside lawyer to bill you fairly, then why do you trust the same lawyer’s legal advice on issues that are much more important than whether your lawyer took the cheapest flight to Denver for a deposition? I am fortunate to have clients who are my trusted friends. I know their children. They know mine. We celebrate family milestones together. They make me laugh, and we have shared tears. Those clients make my life richer, and I think they would say the same thing about me. When they have a legal problem, it is my problem, too, and we solve it together. In this drive-through, microwaved, instant, automated, pre-packaged, electronic world in which we live, take the time to make your outside counsel your trusted friend. You will both be glad you did. Steven M. Zager is a partner in Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in Austin, Texas.

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