Society 54 gives you direct access to what In-House Counsel want from their lawyers and law firms. The Q&A below is from a recent interview we conducted with Bret McNabb, Corporate Counsel for Compass Group.
Q: What factors influence whether you hire outside counsel?
A: 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.
Q: Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer?
A: In short, no, these types of industry accolades do not carry much weight when making determinations as to which outside counsel to use. While I believe many of our outside counsel have likely received these types of recognition, the awards themselves do not drive our decisions. Rather, relationships that have been built over years of working together and networks that have been developed through these relationships are the primary method for guiding outside counsel selection.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make? (What should law firms avoid?)
A: I think there are a number of behaviors outside counsel should avoid (e.g., lack of transparency in billing, slow response times, etc.), although the biggest mistake an outside counsel can make, in my opinion, is to fail to effectively leverage in-house counsel in order to best serve the client. All too often outside counsel fail to recognize the fact that their in-house counterparts live and breathe the culture of the company and have extensive knowledge of the business models employed by the company. These two bases of knowledge provide a significant and unique benefit that outside counsel are frequently unable to master given the limited time outside counsel typically spends working on particular matters for the company. However, understanding the corporate culture and the way in which the company conducts its business will inevitably allow outside counsel to enhance the efficiency of its work as well as increase the value to the client. As a means of bypassing the time it takes to learn the ins and outs of each client, it would behoove outside counsel to engage in-house attorneys to leverage their experience in these areas. In fact, in many instances, simply asking in-house counsel to help explain certain components of the business will often save outside counsel from making easily avoidable mistakes resulting in re-work and dissatisfied clients. These opportunities for discussion between outside counsel and in-house attorneys also allow for them to build rapport and increase trust, resulting in improved services.