CLIENTSpeak: Doug DeMoss, Northrop Grumman Corporation

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 Doug DeMoss, Corporate Director and Division Counsel at Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Q. What factors influence whether you hire outside counsel?
A: Availability and expertise of in-house resources is an important initial consideration; if additional bandwidth and/or expertise is required, then the following criteria would come into play. Doug DeMoss
– Expertise of outside counsel who will handle the matter.
– Geographical location of the business issue requiring legal support, and the location of outside counsel.
– Rates, and in some cases, willingness of the firm to enter into an alternative fee arrangement.
– Consistency of outside counsel’s strategy for handling the matter with the internal view of the case and business needs/strategy.
– 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.

Q: Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer?
A: It depends on the issue. Some matters are very complex and/or have high stakes, and then using the best lawyer matters a lot. Other cases are more routine and the stakes are rather low, so efficiency in handling the matter will likely be a higher priority than using counsel with an elite reputation.

Q: What advice would you give to a junior associate at a law firm?
A: Get exposure to a variety of matters. Work directly with clients when possible, and listen very closely to the clients’ needs, priorities, etc. Do high quality work, and consider all feedback from partners and clients constructively. Leverage support staff for data collection, background research, and other lower-end services rather than running up attorney hours on a matter when there would be more efficient alternatives for the client (even if this means you will bill fewer hours as a result).

Q: What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make (what should law firms avoid)?
A: Failing to listen to the client’s budgetary guidance and surprising the client with higher than expected bills.
– Failing to discuss case strategy, trade-offs between alternative courses of action, and business priorities with the client.
– Making significant decisions about handling a matter without close coordination with in-house counsel.