Associate Advice, Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Partner Issues

House Rules: How To Get an In-House Lawyer’s Attention

I told you last week that today’s column would focus on “how to get my attention.” And I’ll let you know in a bit.

But first, let’s play “Which Biglaw Anecdote is True?” Here are the options:

(1) A partner at Law Firm A regularly has his briefcase sent to his home in a limo;
(2) Law Firm B is chock full of lawyers of all faiths and backgrounds, but holds its summer outing at a country club known for being “restricted”; or
(3) Attorneys at Law Firm C take a helicopter from the 34th Street heliport in Manhattan to a hearing in Connecticut — and then bill the client for it.

Which story is true?

All of them. I’ll keep the names of the firms and lawyers to myself, but I assure you, all of these stories got my attention — for exactly the wrong reasons. The first gentleman has evidently never heard of the newfangled technology called the Subway or even the recent innovation called the Taxi. The firm in the second story has evidently never heard of good taste or tact. And the folks in the third anecdote, well, let’s just say they no longer appear on Company Y’s preferred outside counsel list.

I could write for days on different techniques of networking and getting business. Law firm marketing departments use innumerable strategies to try and get “in” with prospective clients. I went to and through any number of these programs and trainings and junkets and beauty pageants and kimono openings during my firm days, and I’m sure many of you have as well.

Did they work? As far as opening my eyes to different strategies, yes. As far as me being a junior then senior associate and gaining clients, not really. In my personal experience (and it is my own, so I can’t speak for others), there were a couple of tried and true ways to success.

One is to become closely aligned with a partner who has a large client, then poison that partner’s coffee wait for that partner to retire and leave the client to the longstanding associate. But for the other associates in the firm, this is useless. Associate A hit the lotto with that partner, but the rest are still out in the cold.

Another tried and true way is to do so much close work with the client that the client just starts to give its work directly to the associate. So, the rest of the class is still on their own — and you, largely, are on your own.

While this is a bleak picture of sales possibilities, it really is all up to you. You will eventually get out what you put into the effort. If you use your marketing department to its utmost, you will obtain dossiers on potential clients, you will spend time each day in contact with potential clients, you will fully utilize your network of friends and colleagues to seek potential clients — and you will never stop. If you are not the networking and marketing type, you will bust your tail for a client, doing hours upon hours of good work, ensuring that the client knows you — and the more senior you are, maintaining direct contact with the client. Believe it or not, firms don’t always judge partner candidates on “books” of business — ridiculously hard and diligent work for the firm can also result in someone being “made.”

But, how to get my attention? There are any number of ways, beginning with emailing me through ATL and asking a question. Or contact me through any of the publicly disclosed organizations to which I belong, and start a dialogue.

For instance, I volunteer as a mentor with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). One “mentee” contacted me and, through several conversations, asked the question of how he might obtain business from a company like mine. I thought it was a brilliant strategy, one into which thought had been invested. I honestly don’t have time to read the holiday cards that I receive, nor the many firm newsletters and law updates. Of course, if a topic is especially relevant, it may be appropriate, but “Changes in ____ Law Since 2010” isn’t going to grab me. Given my schedule, I basically have time to notice you at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) — though it amazes me that many presenting firms think only e-discovery is what I, and the vast majority of corporate counsel, require. It’s certainly a relevant topic, but to focus your whole presentation and conference spend on a single narrow issue? I’d broaden the scope, folks.

I also spend time with the law-firm sponsors of the committee that I chair for ACC. These firms are invaluable and are very smart to have decided to sponsor a committee of in-house attorneys. I further spend time reviewing and editing articles submitted for the ACC magazine, many of which are co-authored by law firm attorneys. And I stay current with my network of former firm colleagues in the field. The basic thread here is that your firm ought to explore sponsoring something for ACC, MCCA, or one of the other corporate counsel organizations. ACC happens to be the one to which I belong to. It amazes me that more firms aren’t sponsors. I can’t think of a better way to gain access to thousands of in-house attorneys. And it is access that is hard to come by — only ACC sponsors get the kind of access that membership allows. It’s like being given a key to the private club’s secret door. Once you’re in, you’re in.

I’d also try to stay creative in my approaches to in-house attorneys. If you are looking to drum up business, you’re likely more than a few years in at your firm, and you undoubtedly have friends and former colleagues who’ve gone in–house. Stay in contact, talk with them, let them know you’re interested in the work they do. Furthermore, drafting an article for ACC’s magazine is not terribly onerous. Certainly we require well-written pieces, but compared to a law review article that may appear in an obscure journal, the time commitment is minimal and the audience is far reaching.

I hope some of this helps, or at least gets you thinking.

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

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