What Do In-House Counsel Really Want? It’s Not Rocket Science

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Other than merely gods that control your life and book of business, in-house counsel are people. When you put your mind to it, it’s not that hard to figure out what they want.

Still, conference panels where in-house counsel tell us what they want continue to be standing-room only events.

Three tech company in-house counsel recently shared their likes and dislikes at an LMA - Bay Area Chapter meeting.  Panelists were Scott Mellon, Associate General Counsel, Advertising & Privacy, Facebook; Catherine Matterson, General Counsel, ServiceRocket; and Robert Schlossman, Chief Legal Officer, ZScaler Inc. David Bruns, Director of Client Services, Farella Braun + Martel LLP, served as moderator.

The panel went beyond the typical “I don’t like surprises,” “Know I have internal clients,” “You need to have the expertise,” “Don't puff your credentials,” “I want a one-stop shop,” etc. These counsel got granular and offered spot-on tips for a successful attorney-client relationship.

Here are their top 10 tips, in no particular order:

  • Know What Keeps Me Up at Night.

For Schlossman, it’s anti-bribery compliance.

For Mellon, it’s being attuned to privacy hot spots, as 80% of their products are built for people outside the U.S.

For Matterson, it’s ensuring counsel know the environment in the countries in which the company operates. “Know where our offices are located, spot issues in those countries.”

Takeaway: If you don’t know, ask.

  • Understand My Product. No, Really.

“You need not just to understand the product, but where it fits in the marketplace, and the culture I am trying to forge in my company. Do your research up front. Don’t make me explain the basics to you.” –Matterson

“Ideally, each attorney I work with would spend a week seconded at my company.” --Mellon

  • Cost Is Far Less Important Than Whether You Meet Expectations.

“Being in-house is all about budget expectations. This is what I am evaluated on. If we get sued, I will go to my CEO and say it’s going to be $200K. If it’s under, great. But if it’s twice that, it’s a problem. We could have hired an engineer for that amount.” --Schlossman

 “I routinely pay higher because I know an attorney is good and efficient.” –Schlossman

“If we have a big project, tell me how much you think it will cost, because I have to go to my CEO and press my case with him.”—Matterson

“Most people think efficiency is cost. I case less about your bill than how much of my time you are taking up. I want concise information I can act on quickly.” --Mellon

  • Be a Good Business Person, But Don’t Give Me Business Advice. Earn Trust.

Wait to be asked. “Even the best lawyers in Silicon Valley pale by comparison to the strong business minds in companies around here.” –Schlossman.

“In law school you are taught to catch everything. When you move in-house, it’s a 2x4 to the head, because internal clients are willing to deal with the fallout of that. We are making decisions about how much effort to put into answering each question. If we put 100% on each issue, we’d go out of business.” --Schlossman

  • Tell Me How Other Companies Are Solving This Problem.

“We love to hear, ‘Well, in my experience, other companies will do this because of XYZ’.” –Schlossman

“Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s fine to give us information you have given to other clients. Then let me review it and see if it’s up to date.” --Matterson

  • Don’t Tell Me There is a Legal Risk. Tell Me Whether There is a Practical Risk

What is the likelihood of a regulator being interested and having the time and attention to pursue it? “I want what the law says, and what is the risk it will happen.” “Don't give me a memo that says I shouldn’t do something. That’s our call. That’s a business judgment.” –Mellon

  • BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front

Emails should have the conclusion or advice up front, and bulleted points—no narrative—backing it up below. “Give me the answer quickly in a few bullet points or quick conversation, give me a good start, but don’t answer the questions completely.” --Schlossman

“Tell me the answer now, or tell me when you can have the answer.” –Schlossman.

“I expect some kind of response within two hours.” –Mellon

“Acknowledge you have received my email. It’s OK to say you can’t get back to me today, but that you will in the next 24-48 hours.” –Matterson

  • Dinner, No. Lunch, Yes. CLE, Yes. And Try to Be a Person.

“I have two young kids. Don't take me out to dinner. Do take me to lunch and provide on-site CLE. I go to every one they do for our company.” --Schlossman

“There is a soft side to the relationship. Having someone who has a sense of humor and who you can connect with is important.”–Schlossman

  • Keep Up With Client Alerts

“Those client alerts are a godsend. I live by those things. There are so many times when I have been dug in deep on many projects, look up, and wonder how did I miss that. Keep it short, clear and concise, and then link to a longer 20-page memo, if I find I need a deep dive.” –Schlossman

“Timely alerts are great. But don’t send a 30-page printed antitrust annual review.” –Mellon

  • Know My Office Habits, I.E. No Land Lines, No Private Offices, No Time

Don’t waste trees. Many companies are completely electronic; PDFs have replaced paper files. “I don't even have a place to recycle what’s given to me.” –Schlossman

That said, some in-house counsel like hard copy, because they can read them off line, take notes, add tabs, etc. “I get so few hard-copy resources, it would stand out.” Unsure? ASK. --Schlossman

Matterson and Mellon rely on mobile phones (not office landlines), and most tech GCs work with colleagues in open floor plans.

Schlossman has an office phone and misses “100s of calls per day. Like at home, I assume it’s a telemarketer.” Also, “I spend most of my day looking for a conference room to talk to people.” “I like getting on the phone with people. I can save a lot of time, and be much more efficient. But don’t assume. Just ask.”  –Schlossman 

“My day is a series of half-hour meetings, and I do email at night. If you are 15 minutes late for a call, you will only have 15 minutes of my time.” –Mellon

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[Susan Kostal is an editor, writer, business development strategist and media coach with over 25 years experience on the beat and in the C-suite.  Susan's expertise includes legal industry trends, marketing, communications, and public relations.]

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