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How to Become an Indispensable Outside Counsel: Five Tips for Associates (and Beyond)

Euna Kim


  • Know our business and use our product.
  • Think about our legal issues even if we haven’t retained you.
  • Develop relationships with our internal clients.
How to Become an Indispensable Outside Counsel: Five Tips for Associates (and Beyond)
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When I was a new law-firm associate, I had little insight as to why some law-firm associates became service partners and others, rainmakers. While it remains true that a few select partners achieve rainmaking status by inheriting client relationships, it is also true that those client relationships are never guaranteed. Competition is fierce, and in-house lawyers are always looking for the best and most efficient outside counsel. As an in-house lawyer, I’ve learned that the most successful rainmakers are those lawyers who become indispensable not only to a company’s legal team, but to the company as a whole. The following are my tips for any associate who would like to become an indispensable outside counsel.

  1. Know our business and use our product. Outside counsel who actually know our business, and if applicable, use our product, can provide an invaluable legal perspective when dispensing advice. Their perspective is not just theoretical but practical. For example, an outside counsel gave me feedback on one of our new product feature launches from her perspective as a consumer. Based on her feedback, I was able to engage with the product manager on how to fine-tune the product. Not only was this outside counsel’s perspective valuable to the business, but it also made me feel like she was a true ally who really cared about our success. This outside counsel has become truly indispensable to me not only as a legal advisor, but as a trusted partner to our business.
  2. Think about our legal issues even if we haven’t retained you. One of my favorite outside counsel, knowing that we did not retain him on a particular legal issue, nevertheless forwarded me a new regulatory opinion relevant to the issue. This outside counsel views his relationship with the company as a partnership and not simply as a hired expert to opine on a distinct area of our business. This lawyer has become truly indispensable to my practice because he thinks about all facets of our legal issues, and not just issues for which he has been retained.
  3. Develop relationships with our internal clients. In-house counsel have clients, too. Outside counsel who understand the importance of these relationships, or better yet, develop relationships with our internal clients, become truly indispensable. One of our top outside litigation counsel intrinsically understands the importance of developing direct relationships with key business folks. He has gained the trust of our internal clients, which has made him an indispensable partner to the company.
  4. Give pragmatic advice. The best outside counsel not only analyze a legal issue, but they also provide actionable and pragmatic legal advice. In-house lawyers are often tasked with translating complex legal issues to various lines of business. Outside counsel who have the skillset to help facilitate this sometimes-difficult translation process and provide pragmatic advice are truly indispensable.
  5. Flex your expertise. We read your law-firm articles! We appreciate your monthly legal updates. In fact, the more you publish, write, and speak, the easier it is for others at our company to understand why we’ve hired you! Continue to publish and refine your skillset in particular, niche areas. It will pay dividends in the future.

There are many different paths to rainmaking. But developing a true partnership with a company will make any outside counsel truly indispensable.