How in-house counsel defines client focus

The phrase “client focus” can take on many meanings for lawyers. It could mean that the attorneys are focused on meeting the objectives of the client, it could mean that the corporate counsel always come in on or under budget, or it could mean any number of other things. One thing is certain, it is important for every attorney to ask his or her client what their expectations are as they relate to providing client-focused service and then do everything it takes to meet those expectations.

I recently spoke with Karen Parker-Masarone, Senior Business Development Manager for IBISWorld, Inc. (a company that provides industry research). Karen deals with in-house attorneys on a regular basis and said, “My colleagues and I hear time and time again, including at LMA events where the message conveyed from in-house counsel is clear. In-house counsel wants to work with attorneys who know their business. In addition, they are looking for trusted advisors who understand the world in which they operate.”

In preparation for a law firm association development training program, I also contacted several in-house lawyers and asked how they define client focus as it relates to their outside counsel. Here is what they said:

Understanding my business or when you don’t admit it so that I can provide you with the information you need to succeed.

—Ryan Gatto, Director, Compliance, Sungard Availability Services

I want my outside counsel to know about my business and be able to give advice based on what I am asking and that knowledge he/she has about the business.

—Kim Jessum, Chief IP Counsel US and Associate General Counsel, Heraeus Inc.

Be attentive to our company’s needs and the boundaries of what I need to deal with in addressing them (i.e. budgets, timing, etc.). I find that the best outside counsel to work with are those who are best able to view and resolve the issue within the scope/limitations presented, and provide reasonable alternatives under the circumstances. Those who offer academic answers or far-fetched possible outcomes really do not offer anything more than what I could get from reading articles myself.

—General Counsel in software/technology industry

I define client focus as an attorney who finds the most efficient way of resolving the issue and doesn’t over think the situation or try to create more billable work.

—Lori Peruto, Esq., General Counsel, Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation

Client focus relates to outside counsel being aware that just like any other client, we are concerned with high bills. They should also remember that we are attorneys as well! I think that sometimes outside counsel forget that. Many in-house lawyers were law firm attorneys and have previously done the work that the outside counsel is performing. We know what bills should look like.

—Antonella Colella, Deputy General Counsel, Universal Technical Resource Services, Inc.

For litigation matters, client service means developing a case theme early and being humble enough to adjust it as the evidence requires. For transactional matters, outside counsel needs to understand the problem from legal, business and practical perspectives and fashion a solution that addresses all of those perspectives.

—Gino Benedetti, General Counsel, SEPTA

These definitions of client service are rather simple when you come to think of it. As attorneys who provide service to other attorneys, commit to knowing your clients’ business, key success indicators, budgets, timelines and any other factors that affect the services you provide. If you do that, you will retain clients for the long term – retaining clients is far more cost effecting than chasing after new ones.