Alex Baehr, general counsel of Colliers International.
Alex Baehr, general counsel of Colliers International. ()

With just 13 attorneys working in-house at Colliers Inter­national, artful management of outside counsel at the commercial real estate powerhouse is critical. Having a small department that maintains tight relationships with about 12 key law firms around the globe gives it the flexibility to provide legal muscle when and where it’s needed, according to Alex Baehr, senior vice president and general counsel.

Much of the budget for legal ­services at Seattle-based Colliers, which has 13,500 employees and $2 billion in revenue, goes for litigation, Baehr said, often including professional-negligence matters. Another big piece of the budget is corporate work, including intellectual property protection, mergers and acquisitions, and sales.

Most often, Baehr and his team rely on Dorsey & Whitney, the Summit Law Group of Seattle and Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks & Lin­cenberg of Los Angeles.

Baehr is a big proponent of a thorough initial case assessment, and the first step is performed internally. “Such an assessment allows Colliers to understand the drivers behind the case from a cost and strategic standpoint,” he said.

At that phase, one or two in-house lawyers talk with the Colliers business professional involved, review the details and evaluate whether the matter should go to mediation, discovery or to trial.

If they decide to bring in a law firm, its attorneys must have a solid, personal relationship with Baehr’s team. It’s got to be more than “a one-off relationship,” Baehr said. They have to really “get” Colliers.

“Our legal group does a wonderful job of teaming with counsel, not only during a matter but also before and after a matter concludes, to ensure that outside counsel understands Colliers, its culture and mission,” he said.

John Chun, an attorney at Summit Law Group who has handled commercial litigation for Colliers, described Baehr’s team as “demanding, respectful, creative.” Chun, who in December was appointed to the King County, Wash., Superior Court, described Colliers’ legal department as “aggressive problem-­solvers that work hard to solve things on the front end.”

He added: “They don’t sit back and let outside counsel do it all. They ask the hard questions from the get-go.”

Baehr does not issue requests for proposal from law firms, preferring to select outside counsel through a “trusted recommendation” or an existing relationship with the attorney or the firm.

The easiest way for a law firm to ensure that it won’t get any of Colliers’ business is to blow the budget or resort to the sort of “unknowns” that some firms footnote to boost their bills. Among Colliers’ biggest legal matters last year was its acquisition of controlling interests in Colliers Germany, which maintains a major portion of the commercial real estate markets in Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart.

In that and other matters, “open and honest communication” is critical when partnering with outside counsel, Baehr said.

COMPANY BIO

Name of company: Colliers International
Headquarters: SeattleIndustry: commercial real estate
Number of lawyers in Seattle area: 4
Number of lawyers in the U.S.: 7
Number of lawyers worldwide: 13
Name of general counsel: Alex Baehr

KEYS TO SUCCESS

► Client first. This applies as much to the legal department’s work with internal clients as to the company’s work for our clients.

► Partnership. This is the relationship with our internal clients and our outside firms. We should not silo off ourselves from our internal clients, and the department should strive to be as inclusive as possible with our partner firms.

► Be enterprising. The company is driven by a spirit of enterprise. For each engagement, we think creatively, take initiative and collaborate for the benefit of the client.

— Alex Baehr, general counsel