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April 26, 2021

What advice would you give to young lawyers about how outside counsel can communicate better with in-house counsel?

Elena Kohn - January 4, 2017

Outside counsel could be key strategic partners to in-house counsel. This strategic partnership can be either beneficial to both parties or a source of frustration. The world of in-house counsel is very fast-paced. This is because in-house counsel work with business teammates as opposed to attorneys. Attorneys within a law firm all receive similar training and realize that prior research is needed before rendering legal advice. By contrast, business teammates often assume that attorneys are walking encyclopedias who are able to render legal advice on the spot. To be able to turn around huge volumes of prompt legal advice, in-house counsel rely on outside counsel who become their strategic allies. This dynamic and internal organizational pressure are hugely important to understand because outside counsel can really help alleviate some of the pressure and ensure a lasting alliance with their in-house counterpart.

Such qualities as responsiveness and being concise are what I value the most. When I send out an email requesting an update, this is likely because my internal stakeholders need to know the status as soon as possible. Even a quick email acknowledging my concern and providing a quick update is a whole lot better than ignoring the request and then finally responding to it several days later. In the world of in-house counsel, several days is way too long.

Also, in terms of being concise, we really do not expect a lengthy War and Peace-type explanation of the suggested legal advice. Outside counsel are being paid for their expertise, so a brief, concise, and to-the-point advice is what we need. If it is important to memorialize your legal conclusion, it might be a good idea to create a brief memo for your internal law firm file, but it is not necessary to share it with your in-house counsel counterpart unless that is what you are being asked to do.

Finally, before jumping into conducting legal research, it is vital to understand what issue you are being tasked with. The absolute worst is to spend multiple billable hours providing legal advice for the wrong issue. That is very frustrating to in-house counsel because oftentimes in-house counsel is being tasked with keeping costs down. For this reason, it is always worth it to follow up with an email or a phone call and clarify the issue if it is unclear after the initial assignment.

In conclusion, the alliance between in-house counsel and outside counsel can be very productive if care and attention are given to learning your client’s business, being responsive to their needs, and providing concise legal advice.

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, young lawyers, in-house counsel, outside counsel, legal advice, communication

Elena Kohn is general counsel with Dynamic Dental Partners Group in St. Petersburg, Florida, and adjunct professor of business law at the University of Tampa.

Elena Kohn - January 4, 2017