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Josh Sherbin, general counsel and chief compliance officer at TriMas Corp., wants his outside counsel to see issues not just as legal problems, but as business problems that need legal solutions. In other words, Sherbin wants business partners for his legal department.

Sherbin is one of dozens of general counsel across the country who are taking part in a project with GC-led organization AdvanceLaw. The GC Thought Leaders Experiment involves collecting and examining data to help in-house lawyers make more informed decisions about outside counsel, based on client service and satisfaction as well as cost.

In a recent interview, Sherbin said he has been part of an informal steering committee of GCs who work daily with outside counsel on a global basis and who are offering input and guidance on the project. He said the input focuses on “the questions and the premises that are worth looking at, and what hypotheses should be tested as AdvanceLaw gathers data.”

He said he became involved with the group because he wanted to see “how others were looking to really form outside counsel relationships that work, that focus on service, responsiveness, and quality, forming sustainable relationships between inside and outside counsel.” 

Sherbin said he has been fortunate at TriMas, a diversified manufacturer of engineered components and applied products based in suburban Detroit, to develop several partner relationships with outside counsel that are strategic in nature. He declined to name his go-to law firms.

He said he prefers “working with firms that take the time and investment to understand your business, and think like business partners.” He believes that both in-house and outside counsel who “think and frame issues that way” end up being most effective in delivering solutions that meet client needs.

Sherbin, who joined TriMas in 2005 as general counsel and corporate secretary, added the title of senior vice president last year. Previously he served seven years as North American corporate counsel for automotive supplier Valeo, two years as senior counsel at job placement firm Kelly Services, and seven years as an associate with the business law firm Butzel Long in Detroit.

At TriMas, Sherbin said, inside and outside counsel must do more with less and deliver pragmatic solutions in a timely manner.

A key component for Sherbin is cost-effectiveness. “Firms we work with do a great job of understanding that we are like every other function of a business — oriented to how you can control costs,” he said. “Not by being unfair or unreasonable, but by controlling them in a way to get the greatest value that ends up being fair for both sides.”

He said his legal team has become better at forming those strategic relationships, but continues to revisit and tweak them. “We look at our last project and the lessons learned, how to be smarter and faster, how to bring greater value to the business on the next project,” he explained.

When it comes to being a business partner, Sherbin expects no less of his in-house counsel.

He said, “At the top of the list is understanding our role is primarily to align with the perspective of the business, to really help those charged with generating revenue by making their job easier. We help clear land mines.”

Contact Sue Reisinger at sreisinger@alm.com.

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