CLIENTSpeaks: Jason Stevens – Succession Planning, Keys to Success

Jason Stevens, Assistant General Counsel, Novant Health

Jason Stevens, Assistant General Counsel, Novant Health

The Q&A below is from a recent interview we conducted with Jason Stevens, Assistant General Counsel, Novant Health.

Q.  What are some things that outside counsel have done that have made a positive impression and/or impact? 
A.  Successful lawyers not only know my business, but they take time to know me.  They learn how I like to communicate.  They know expectations for turn-around time.  They know what to talk about with me at social events.  They know how I like to spend my free time – and they demonstrate genuineness in that knowledge.  And they know that my number one job responsibility is to ensure the aggregate success of our business.

Q.  Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer? 
A.  No.

Q.  What advice would you give to a junior associate at a law firm? 
A.  Two things:  First, do as much as you can to understand your client’s business – not to demonstrate that you know how to use the internet – but rather to demonstrate that you know a successful lawyer must understand his/her client’s business to be effective.  Too often, I have worked with attorneys – both young and old – who do not understand our business and consequently, they have no understanding of what a successful outcome is.  Second, ask questions.  Look, we all know that law schools generally do a poor job of teaching lawyers practical skills.  As a result, I encourage young lawyers to ask questions – both of clients and of senior attorneys in their firms.  Inquiry is the pathway to success.

Q.  What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make? (What should law firms avoid?) 
A.  In my opinion, successful outside counsel always realize that their clients have options for legal services.  The worst lawyer is one who thinks that he/she cannot be replaced – and in-house counsel can spot these kinds of attorneys from a distance.  To be successful, in-house attorneys must be proud learners and humble teachers – and likewise, successful outside attorneys are humble both in their representation of their clients and in their work with each other.

Q.  Have you been involved in any succession planning efforts from the law firms that you work with?  If so, any advice on how they should make the transition? 
A.  Yes, and forward-thinking law firms routinely engage in this type of work in a way that is almost transparent to us as clients.  Law firms need to understand that companies engage in succession planning on a routine basis – and that legal departments follow similar suit.  Successful outside attorneys and firms approach representation as though it is a true partnership – i.e., they look for an approach to representation where everyone – and I mean everyone (including all members of the firm and the client itself) – wins.  In working with an outside attorney or firm, nothing frustrates me more than having an attorney who views a matter as “his” or “hers.”  The business world is becoming heavily matrixed – and successful law firms must follow suit.  Sure, this type of change will require modifications to lawyer compensation plans.  And I’m not so sure that that’s a bad thing.