In-House Perspective: 4 Ways to Differentiate Your Practice and Earn Our Business

JD Supra Perspectives

[The latest Voice of the Client guest post by Society 54's Jill Huse:]

What factors influence whether or not you hire outside counsel?

Are you even asking such questions of your clients and prospects? You should be. We hear it often enough in our capacity as coaches counseling attorneys on best practices for developing business, and so we decided to put it to in-house counsel. Direct from the source, here's what we heard back:

  • Community Involvement

"The attorney we work with was chosen based on his reputation in the community. He is a great father and husband, an elder in his church, and an attorney at a reputable law firm. He has shown good character in all interactions and values the people in his life personally and professionally. He has also repeatedly gone 'the extra mile' by meeting with others in our organization to give advice and to discuss issues that I may not have knowledgeable of."  Jen Thompson, Lighthouse for Life

  • Referrals

"At Parsec Financial, we quite often refer our clients to local/regional Estate Planning attorneys. The main factor for creating the initial relationship with an attorney is typically a referral. After the initial introduction/referral, it is important for us to get a better understanding of the attorney’s specialty and process for working with families. We believe that the best client experience is delivered not only by satisfying the client’s primary legal need but also by matching personalities on a more personal/social basis." - Michael Ziemer, Parsec Financial

  • Niche Expertise

"We have a very small in-house department, so we need to use our internal resources wisely. If we think an issue will demand a considerable amount of an in-house attorney’s time, we are far more likely to send it to outside counsel. I need to ensure that our internal staff has time to handle the routine work and the crises that inevitably arise. Even if the matter isn’t time-consuming, we are more likely to involve outside counsel if the issue demands a certain expertise.

If we don’t have expertise in-house, I am willing to pay outside legal fees to get it...

One of the things that keeps life interesting for an in-house attorney is the constant, fast-paced analysis of issues that are outside our comfort zones. We use our legal training, gut instinct and knowledge of the business to make the best decisions we can quickly, and then move on to the next issue. However, there are some matters that require technical knowledge, such as ERISA issues or complex tax issues. If we don’t have that expertise in-house, I am willing to pay outside legal fees to get it." - Taryn Mecia, Harris Teeter

"At Compass Group, we are fortunate to have a rather robust legal department with many attorneys providing legal services in a wide range of practice areas. As a result, the vast majority of Compass Group’s day-to-day legal needs are met by using in-house counsel; however, we do regularly engage outside counsel in order to help further our business needs. These instances arise when we encounter matters requiring experience in niche practice areas, matters that require knowledge of relevant local laws, or matters of such a magnitude that engaging outside counsel allows us to leverage their specialty expertise.

In my particular practice area, some examples of instances when we utilize outside counsel include liquor licensing matters and real estate transactions. As such, the primary factor influencing when we engage outside counsel is the level of specialty expertise required to adequately address the matter at hand." - Bret MCNabb,  Direct ChassisLink Inc. 

  • Multi-Faceted Value

"Availability and expertise of in-house resources is an important initial consideration; if additional bandwidth and/or expertise is required, then we would consider the following: 

1) Expertise of outside counsel who will handle the matter.  

2) Geographical location of the business issue requiring legal support, and the location of outside counsel.  

3) Rates, and in some cases, willingness of the firm to enter into an alternative fee arrangement.  

4) Consistency of outside counsel’s strategy for handling the matter with the internal view of the case and business needs/strategy. 

5) Prior use of the candidate firm, and whether the firm is considered a preferred provider of services based on the business’s desire to consolidate work with a limited number of firms." - Doug Demoss, Northrop Grumman Corporation

Many companies are moving more and more of their legal needs in-house.  Competition is fierce. To be successful in this industry, attorneys need to differentiate themselves and their practices and focus on building and maintaining key relationships. Get in touch if you’d like our help with this.


[Society 54 Co-Founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. A certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches Coach, Jill is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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