April 30, 2016 Articles

Q&A with In-House Counsel Robert Harrison of ADT

The committee sits down with in-house counsel for one of the country's largest security companies.

Robert Harrison is senior corporate counsel at ADT, which is one of the largest security companies in the United States that specializes in providing electronic security, fire protection, and other alarm monitoring services to residences and businesses. At ADT, Harrison is the primary transactional attorney assigned to ADT’s commercial business unit and health business unit. Previously, Harrison was an assistant general counsel at UTC Aerospace Systems, where he was involved in transactional and litigation matters.

Recently, Harrison shared his perspective on the following questions:

What accomplishment as an attorney are you most proud of?
One thing that comes to mind is the work that I did with the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association in Connecticut, which is the oldest and the largest black attorneys bar association in Connecticut. When I first started practicing in Connecticut, the organization had been dormant and somewhat inactive for a few years. I, along with a few people I handpicked, worked to reengage and restart the organization. The organization is very strong today. It is crucial that the organization is active because part of the organization’s mission is to advocate for social justice and other things in terms of insuring that black attorneys are active and at the table not only in the private sector but also in the public sector.

What about being an in-house counsel do you like the most?
I like the fact that I’m not only a legal advocate or legal advisor but I’m also a business advisor. Fifty percent of what I do is provide legal guidance, but the other half is general business advice about how the business should proceed. So it stretches my intellect in that we are all at the table and were all trying to figure out how our business can be most profitable, but also keeping in mind that we need to be ethical and compliant with the laws and regulations that are applicable to the business.

What about being an in-house counsel do you like the least?
I think sometimes it’s a challenge because there are all sorts of business meetings within the organization. Sometimes it is a challenge to have time to actually do the work that is required or the deliverables that are identified within those meetings because you are always in meetings.

What is the most important factor you consider when choosing outside counsel?
Having an outside counsel that has supreme expertise in that area is the most important thing. The second most important thing is that their billing platform/pricing is compatible with what we’re trying to get. But I think the most important thing is that we are getting top-notch service, which is linked to ensuring that we have someone who has supreme expertise in that area.

Is there any kind of alternative fee arrangement or method that you typically prefer?
The flat rate arrangement with a caveat that if certain variables are changed or are not met that we would either revisit or that there would be some provision for the outside counsel to renegotiate or get more out of it. We want it to be a win-win situation. We don’t want to take advantage of the law firm and we understand everybody needs to make money, so my preference is to have some sort of fixed arraignment with the option of transitioning to something different if things changed or don’t go according to plan. We make certain assumptions at the flat rate and if those assumptions are way off then from my perspective then we both should sit at the table and renegotiate.

What are some of the things that outside counsel do or do not do that you find annoying?
One thing I find generally annoying is outside lawyers that are nonresponsive. From a billings perspective, being charged for work that is not related to my matter. In addition, sometimes outside counsel can be condescending at times because they are the expert. Sometimes they have to remember that they are talking to an attorney as well. Also, sometimes outside counsel forget to keep us in the loop, which can be problematic because the more they share the more the in-house counsel can be helpful … I think the outside lawyers that do not understand the importance of partnering with the in-house lawyer are at a disadvantage.

What are some of the biggest challenges associated with the change from outside counsel to in-house counsel?
The challenge is that you are now directly working for some form of business and you have a huge learning curve. You have to learn the business, the people, the acronyms, as well as the culture of the business. There are also substantive differences in terms of how you practice law, because now you are not only providing legal input, but you are also sort of a business advisor.

What advice would you give to an attorney who recently moved in-house?
My advice would be to learn the business very well. Always do exceptional work and in order to accomplish this you have to partner with your business colleagues. You need to set up meetings and conference calls so that you can talk with the folks that you are supporting to find out what they do and how you can be most efficient and helpful to advancing their platforms and how you can best provide legal services to the team. Be engaged so that the business sees you as a valuable contributor to the organization. You want to build your reputation so that other people within your organization think of you before or when they are making moves strategically. But having people actively seek your advice and counsel is only going to happen if you build those relationships internally, put the time in to learn your trade and the business, and if you provide sound business and legal input to your colleagues.

Keywords: litigation, diversity and inclusion, advice for lawyers, in-house counsel

Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).