Cynthia Sanchez Escamilla is general counsel of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Escamilla says she prefers to work with outside counsel who think critically and make high-level inquiries.
Texas Lawyer research editor Jeanne graham emailed Escamilla some questions about best practices. Her answers are below, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What criteria do you consider most important when selecting outside counsel?
Cynthia Escamilla: My overarching goal is to select outside counsel with integrity and ethics, so that I have complete confidence that he/she will take no actions contrary to the university’s mission. With respect to the practice itself, my goal is to hire outside counsel with expertise and competency in the area for which he/she has been hired. In short, I expect consistent high-quality work product. My expectation is that I am hiring the outside counsel because he/she is a subject matter expert in that particular area of the law and has full capability to represent the university’s interest. As general counsel of a non-profit private institution of higher education with responsibility for managing the legal expense budget, cost of legal services is an important factor; outside counsel that is sensitive to that is critical to a good working relationship. Further, I view my relationship with outside counsel as a partnership and one of mutual respect and trust; therefore responsiveness is very important.
TL: For what types of matters do you typically hire outside counsel?
Escamilla: I typically hire outside counsel for matters that involve litigation that will be somewhat involved, such as a multi-party case where extensive discovery and experts is anticipated. I also engage outside counsel for employment matters that reach the arbitration or litigation stage, and for matters that involve specialized areas such as intellectual property, land use or international matters.
TL: What can outside counsel do to perform beyond your expectations?
Escamilla: As a one-attorney office, my relationship and trust with outside counsel is critical to ensuring strong legal representation for the university, so he/she should communicate often and be open and honest with me. Outside counsel must recognize that this is not his/her case, but rather, the university’s case, and for my client to have the best representation, responsiveness and discussion well before deadlines or decision times is critical, even with seemingly small items or issues. Further, because I am hiring outside counsel to handle matters that I am either not resourced to handle in-house or requires specialized expertise, I expect outside counsel to perform at an expertise and resource level well above what I could handle internally. In this regard, outside counsel that thinks critically and makes high level inquiries will perform beyond my expectations.
TL: What one thing from your previous work experience is helping you most on the job today, and why?
Escamilla: I have been fortunate to have gained a wide exposure to many different areas of the law and it’s really my collective experience that gets me to this answer: being flexible and comfortable in stepping out of my comfort zone. Starting out in civil defense litigation taught me that I must get to know my client’s business really well to effectively defend their interests. From this I learned that, by study and research, I can tackle almost any topic. As a one-attorney office working for a visionary president and dynamic board, the issues that arise are numerous and varied. The law should never be an impediment to the growth and progress of the university; my role as general counsel is to support the president and the board to achieve the goals they have set for the university, while remaining consistent with the law and the university’s mission. Therefore, my broad experience and civil litigation background removes any intimidation factor when I am faced with new areas of the law or novel approaches to resolving issues.