Insights from a Panel Discussion on Client Service

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As outside counsel, we operate under our own assumptions about what it means to partner with and provide firstrate service to clients. But, the best judges are the clients themselves. To help us understand better what partnership and first-rate client service mean to inside counsel, we asked three in-house lawyers to provide us their perspectives at a panel discussion on December 9, 2009. The participants were Jerry Liu (Senior Patent Counsel at ARRIS Group, Inc.), Cheryl Tubach (Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at J.M. Huber Corporation), and Bernard Zidar (Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at McKesson Provider Technologies). Each participant conveyed a unique perspective drawn from his or her own career experiences, but the panelists shared a common view about three characteristics of an effective and reliable outside counsel partnership: good communication, attention to budget, and timeliness.

Listening and Responding

Good communication is key to any successful business relationship—including the relationship between inside and outside counsel. And, of course, the first key to good communication is listening. Only by listening can outside counsel clearly understand expectations regarding deliverables, deadlines and budgets. As a project progresses, successful outside counsel will initiate conversation to ensure that those expectations are being met and have not changed. This is especially true when the outside lawyer is taking on a project beyond the scope of a previous representation.

While the views of inside counsel vary on a number of subjects, one concern is nearly universal: inside counsel needs to be able to contact outside counsel easily. A clear point of contact for inside counsel should be given. If it is necessary to have multiple points of contact, outside counsel should identify the best contacts for specific issues. Also, outside counsel should make a point of learning the proper contacts at the corporation. In some circumstances, inside counsel may want outsidecounsel to directly conduct businesspeople at the corporation on issues. In other circumstances, this may be strongly disfavored.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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