In-House Counsel: 5 Simple Ways to Make Your Client Happy

by JD Supra Perspectives

Please don’t get on the phone with me if you don’t have a basic understanding of what we do, what’s going on in the news about us and what our challenges are.

During my professional career, I have served as a sales executive charged with “saving” dissatisfied or financially distressed clients, a consultant, a judicial clerk, and now a lawyer. Presently, I am in-house counsel for a multinational company. If I have learned nothing else throughout my career, it is this simple premise: Make your client happy (or, “it’s the client, stupid!”).

Yes, the law is an intellectually rigorous and academic profession. But it is so much more than that. The best lawyers know that being a good lawyer requires knowing the law and being an excellent salesperson. It requires emotional intelligence and insight, service-orientation, responsiveness, and a desire to serve. Now that I’ve “gone in-house,” I of course still have my clients, but also I am the client. And, as the client, here are some ways you can make me happy:

1. Know my business.

You’ve heard it over and over. You must know your client’s business. Please don’t get on the phone with me if you don’t have a basic understanding of what we do, what’s going on in the news about us and what our challenges are. As my lawyer, you need to help me figure out how to run my business while mitigating legal risk and defending the company’s interests. You cannot do that unless you know my business. And please, know how to spell and pronounce my company’s name.

2. Work with me (not for me, against me, above me, or below me).

If you know my business (which you must; see #1), you know what I am up against. Bring your research and expertise to the table. I’ll bring my business needs and challenges. Take the time to truly understand my needs and challenges. At the same time, don’t be my “yes” person and don’t be my “no” person. I want to hear what you have to say. I am relying on your expertise. Be my business and legal partner.

Distill and apply the law for me in a way that shows you know what I am up against, you know I need the answers, you know I need a way forward...

3. Have my back.

I need to be able to trust that you have my back. Be honest with me – always. Know the deadlines for my cases, and meet them. Know the weaknesses in my cases, and provide recommendations for overcoming them. Make sure I know them too. If something is too risky, don’t just tell me “no.” That probably won’t help me, or my business. Help me get to “yes.” Distill and apply the law for me in a way that shows you know what I am up against, you know I need the answers, you know I need a way forward, and you have my back.

4. Pay attention to me.

Know my first name. Know how busy I am. Know if I prefer long, informal conference calls during which we can brainstorm about the issues, or if I prefer a succinct email with your recommendation. Know if I prefer face-to-face touches. Know how risk-averse I am. Know how risk-averse my business is. Know if I am a morning person or an afternoon person. Know if I will want copies of the cases you cite. Know if I am under a deadline. Know what my professional interests are. At the holidays, feel free to reach out with a card or (even better) bottle of wine. I’m flattered if you invite me to your firm events (but please get my name right on the invite and don’t invite me to a litigation CLE if I am a transactional attorney). If you see something about my business in the news, by all means, send me some helpful analysis or research that is on point.

5. Help me help (my clients).

I need you, and you need me.  Remember, I have clients too. If you think I am demanding, you should walk a mile in my shoes. When I email you, please respond (promptly). And please read my email before you respond. And please don’t ever send me an email without providing a well-reasoned, articulate, and actionable recommendation for next steps.

It’s not about where you went to school, how many times you’ve been nominated as a Super Lawyer, or how many publications are listed on your biography. We want you to be subject matter experts in your practice area, but also, we just want you to listen to us, to respond to us, and to help us. Do that, and we will be happy.

[Rebecca Signer Roche serves as senior counsel on all labor and employment matters for a multinational defense company's global operations and worldwide workforce of 25,000+ employees. Previously, Rebecca was a labor and employment associate at Littler Mendelson, P.C. and at McGuireWoods, LLP. Connect with Rebecca on Twitter and LinkedIn.]


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