CLIENTSpeak: Brian Autry, Partner at Kenison, Dudley & Crawford, LLC

Society 54 gives you direct access to what In-House Counsel and other purchasers of legal services want from their lawyers and law firms. The CLIENTSpeak Q&A below is from a recent interview we conducted with Brian Autry, Partner at Kenison, Dudley & Crawford, LLC.

Brian’s current practice is focused primarily on construction, commercial transactions, commercial real estate, and contract litigation. Prior to joining Kenison, Dudley & Crawford, Brian was an associate at Nexsen Pruet from 2001 to 2008. Then, from 2008 to 2011, he was General Counsel for a private equity-funded alternative energy start-up company, where he managed the company’s legal affairs and served as a member of the executive management team. As General Counsel, he became familiar with legal principles related to alternative energy, private equity, employment and labor, agriculture, and government relations. Brian’s experience gives him valuable insight into the needs and challenges of his clients as they seek to effectively launch, operate, and grow their businesses.

Q: What factors influence whether you hire outside counsel?
A: When I was in-house counsel, the two main questions that weighed on my decisions to hire outside counsel were: How much time do I have to accomplish a legal task and do it well? Is this legal issue one that’s outside my field of expertise or more complicated than something I should handle? Outside counsel can be a great way to just get some things done that you don’t have time to do.  It sort of gives you a boost to your in-house team in times of heavy workload.  There are also legal tasks I simply should not be performing because I don’t have the experience or expertise necessary to do it correctly.  I think in-house counsel can make costly mistakes in trying to handle complex legal issues outside their field of training.  Retaining outside counsel fills that gap in training and experience.

Q: What are some things that outside counsel have done that have made a positive impression and/or impact?
A: The easiest way to answer this question is just to provide a non-exhaustive list:

  • Responsiveness;
  • Working hard to understand my company’s business and the things that are important to us;
  • Taking the time to have more personal contact, especially in person;
  • Limiting the number of lawyers working on my file; and
  • Being a good steward of my time and my team’s time, including being punctual.

Q: Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer?
A: I can’t speak for other in-house counsel, but that never meant anything to me when identifying the right outside counsel.  It’s nice to have, but those rankings are so easily manipulated.  For me, it was much more important to get a referral from a satisfied client or from another lawyer I trust.  I never hired outside counsel without a referral and never asked whether they were a super/best/elite lawyer.

Q: What advice would you give to a junior associate at a law firm?
A: I’ve been blessed to work at a large firm, as in-house counsel, and now at a small boutique firm, but the keys to building a successful practice are the same at every level. At a high level, I would say pursue integrity.  If you don’t have integrity, your clients will figure it out sooner or later and they will move on to another lawyer.  Everything else flows out of that.  If you have integrity, you will work hard to be a great lawyer, you will demonstrate humility in putting the needs of others before your own, you will be responsive and honest, and you will push your clients toward resolution of their legal issues along the shortest path possible.  The rest will take care of itself.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make? (What should law firms avoid?)
A: I think it’s a huge mistake not to get to know your clients on a more personal level.  We are so addicted to electronic communication that we forget the value of phone calls and in-person meetings.  Outside counsel should make time to visit their clients and in-house lawyers.  Another mistake is over-lawyering a simple matter.  This can mean a couple of different things: (1) loading up a matter with too many lawyers (and time keepers in general); or (2) spending too much time and effort on a simple task, especially when it involves unnecessary drafting, editing, etc.  Over-lawyering makes it look like you’re more concerned about your firm’s billings than about your client’s needs and budget.