CLIENTSpeak: Edward Bender, General Counsel & Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs at SCHA

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 Edward Bender, General Counsel & Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs at the South Carolina Hospital Association.

In his role, Edward helps create and shape policy for the benefit of hospitals and health systems in South Carolina. His responsibilities include representing SCHA before the South Carolina General Assembly and state agencies such as DHEC and LLR. In addition, he is the chief legal officer for SCHA and its subsidiaries. Prior to his time at SCHA, Edward served as Counsel to the Clerk of the South Carolina Senate and as a health care lawyer in private practice at Nexsen Pruet, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina undergraduate and law schools (go Gamecocks!) and enjoys reading and CrossFit. Most importantly, Edward is the father of two daughters, Marlowe (6) and Jay (2), who are the lights of his life and ensure he never takes himself or life too seriously.

Q: What factors influence whether you hire outside counsel?
A: The primary factor for me is subject matter. Is the matter at issue something beyond the scope of my knowledge and so specialized I will not be able to learn it quickly enough to handle it effectively? The second factor is time. Is this something that will require an enormous amount of my time on a daily/weekly basis – usually some type of litigation? A distant third is cost. From my time in private practice, I understand the value of good legal representation and I do not freak out at every single legal bill (like some of my coworkers, ha). But I also understand the difference between necessary billings and those bills that are padded with fluff. When I’m evaluating outside counsel I am not afraid of “expensive” as long as I feel the work billed for is justified.

Q: What are some things that outside counsel have done that have made a positive impression and/or impact?
A: Despite my previous answer, we had a matter last year where cost was a factor. Cost did not influence the law firm we chose, but the lead lawyer and I had an initial conversation to set a relatively modest budget for the work. As part of the cost savings, I did a lot of the “associate” work on the deal. Our lawyer did an outstanding job of working within the parameters we set and making me part of the deal team. He constantly communicated with me about fees and strategies for maximizing cost efficiencies. At the end of the deal, we were $40,000 under the estimated budget while still receiving top notch representation.

Q: Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer?
A: I can’t speak for all in-house counsel, but I could care less about that crap. What I care about is a lawyer’s skill and reputation based on my own personal knowledge or the knowledge of someone else I trust.

Q: What advice would you give to a junior associate at a law firm?
A: Don’t let your job define you. Have a personality and interests beyond the four walls of your office. Law firms, especially big ones, have an expectation of homogeneity for their associates. Don’t let that expectation force you into being someone you’re not. Seeking a life outside the law firm will make you a better person and a better lawyer.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make? (What should law firms avoid?)
A: I’m sure there are plenty of big mistakes that could be listed, but I’d like to mention something that might not be a mistake but at least a missed opportunity. If your law firm is hosting a social gathering/client appreciation event, a lawyer from that firm should contact clients personally to invite them to the event. I am much more inclined to attend something if a lawyer I know calls me and says “hey, we are having this event at our office and I’d love it if you could come and have a drink with me.” As opposed to me simply receiving a mass emailed invitation from the law firm’s marketing person. That’s lame but tons of law firms do it that way. Personal touch is meaningful.