Law Department MethodSM for Private Practitioners
In-House Counsel’s Best Practices Can Be Used by Private Practitioners
The legal affairs of large companies are managed by their Law Departments. Law Department lawyers have to learn additional skills because the environment can be so different.
They work side-by-side with company management, are part of the management team, closely observe the business and are ultimately responsible for the legal successes and failures of their companies. These skills can be of great benefit in private practice. Law Department attorneys hold fast to different methods than law firm lawyers. They must provide legal advice as well as be business managers of the company’s legal function. For these reasons, in-house legal experience is an invaluable legal asset for businesses of any size.
In-house legal methods can be used in private practice, too. This collection of methods is the “Law Department Method”. It requires the attributes of business knowledge, speed and accessibility, project management, pragmatism, a prevention mindset, knowledge transfer, accountability and responsibility for outcomes, risk-taking, superior service, and cost-cutting.
Fully Understand the Business
First, the great business counselor must know the business. Legal solutions must help meet the goals of the business. If you do not know the business, it is difficult to consistently meet these goals. So, learn the client’s business quickly. In addition, you must be accessible. Clients need to have necessary resources available when they are needed. Just as the CEO calls on HR, IT and Finance and expects quick turnaround, the CEO expects the same from their inside and outside lawyers. Clients move fast and you need to move as fast as they move.
You must plan your actions and measure your results. Just as executives have deadlines, goals and cost constraints, you must become comfortable using these measuring devices for legal projects. You should measure how key services are delivered to the client and then report your results periodically to the client.
You must be pragmatic. Clients need practical solutions for problems. Spend the time on the project which is warranted by the financial risk of the problem. Do not sound the alarm bell unless the CEO, CFO, or board will consider the risk to be large. With the Law Department Method, lawyers try to proactively discover problems before the problems become financially damaging to the company. This can be done by asking questions all the time and becoming a keen observer of the business. Look for potential issues and address them before they become a problem. After you have solved the problem, use that knowledge to later change and improve the system.
Transfer your knowledge to the client so that they may help identify and prevent problems. Give short, informative, plain-English memos or e-mails to the client that can be used for their future reference. For involved areas of law, conduct client training and seminars. The Law Department Method requires that the attorney is accountable. You must accept the consequences of your recommendations – good and bad. Risk is an everyday part of the executive’s life – so it must be for you, too. While many lawyers want to do everything to prevent even all risks, that approach takes too much precious time and costs too much money. Become comfortable in comparing the risk to the goal and accepting appropriate risk.
Service is King
Lastly, we are in a service business. Service means doing whatever is necessary to accomplish the objective, please the client, and get the job done. Be their project servant and make it easy to do business with you. Among other things, return phone calls and e-mails immediately; be upbeat, conversational, and social. When you do this, most clients will look forward to calling you for help with their next important problem.
The Law Department Method is based on proven business principles used by businesses in all industries. Sophisticated executives and board members expect seasoned business counselors to provide services in a way which draws upon these accepted business methods. The Law Department Method combines the business knowledge and client commitment of an in-house counsel with the substantive legal expertise of a traditional outside counsel. In other words, the Law Department Method combines the best of both legal worlds to achieve superior legal and business results for business clients.