Previously on Moonlighting, we considered some common mistakes that law firm attorneys make when pitching their firms to seek work from new clients. It featured such dramatic gems as: find out who our enemies are; BS sounds like… gee, whaddya know… BS; and cameos from other need-to-know concepts making their appearance on the big (computer) screen.
In this week’s
episode article, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, with a remake that focuses on the in-house lawyer’s perspective. What are some ways that in-house lawyers can ensure that they get the most out of those pitch meetings?
Set a specific agenda before the meeting. Determine what your needs are and provide the firm with a good idea of what you’d like to accomplish during the meeting. Are you looking for expert guidance and training in certain areas of law and regulation? For general support in mergers and acquisitions? Once the firm has a clear idea of your needs, they’ll know how to prepare and which types of attorneys to bring along. Otherwise, during the meeting, they’ll need to react to questions and inquiries on the fly.
Give them homework — make sure they know your business. Tell the firms ahead of time that you expect them to have done their homework on your company. If your company is public, they should review the publicly-available documents. If your company isn’t public, give them the tools they need to prepare — annual reports or other documents that you’re able to share with them. In either case, be sure also to let them know which business unit you’re in, the particular types of work you’re responsible for, etc.
Ask a question you know the answer to. Pull the ol’ law prof trick on a couple of law firm partners. Ask a question that’s a little more complicated than a basic legal issue, but not so complex that it would require additional research. The purpose is to check their issue-spotting ability to see whether they give you a superficial response or a more thoughtful one based on nuances of the law or a practical situation.
Get some free advice. If you retain these people, you’re going to be asking for advice all the time. See what it’s actually like to get a response for a question you currently have. Make sure that the advice you seek is within the scope of what you’ve asked them to be prepared about — again, their needing to answer questions off-guard decreases the likelihood that the answers will be helpful to you. Take their responses into consideration, but don’t rely on them completely after they leave.
Find out what others are doing. You want to know what the firms think people like you (e.g., their clients or the non-clients in the same industry) are doing, subject to confidentiality issues, of course. You want to be confident that the firms have gone to regulators with questions that are similar to ones currently affecting your company and that they’re not just learning about the industry on your nickel (and potentially screwing up and learning from the screw-ups during the process). This is particularly important for emerging and international markets.
Determine how important regulator expertise is to you. There are attorneys who have only appeared before regulators and those who have actually been former regulators. The latter group knows at a much more granular level how things get done internally and have more resources to consult with on various issues. Because of their connections and practical experience, these lawyers are better able to give advice on issues of first impression. Former regulators will also generally be able to determine a response to your question more quickly and efficiently.
Go with your gut. Face-to-face meetings with outside counsel are infrequent. Use these pitch opportunities as a check for any intangibles that may give you pause — a lack of sincerity in their expressions, an air of arrogance or condescension, inconsistent body language — that aren’t as detectable over the phone or via an email.
So what’s not to like about pitch meetings? You get to give these law firm partners homework, play know-it-all law school prof, and get some free legal advice. Make the most of the time you have together because hiring a firm that provides you with faulty counsel or that you end up hating to work with can mean a lot more time, effort, and expense than the amount you invest in an initial one- or two-hour meeting.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.