In-House Counsel Should be Prepared

09/19/2011
Priorities between corporate clients and lawyers often diverge on controlling costs, but if both sides come prepared to work together, common ground can be easier to find.

Detailed and clear communication will help create a mutually beneficial relationship that is cost-effective for the client, yet profitable for the firm. For best results, in-house counsel should make clear all expectations and objectives to outside counsel right at the start. Draw up a checklist that covers both qualitative issues and procedural details in such a way that outside counsel clearly knows how the client defines fundamental satisfaction. Only then can the relationship be mutually satisfactory and successful.

Checklists should cover these items:

  • Engagement goal: Define positive and cost-effective guidelines that will build mutual confidence by setting forth a workable and an agreed-upon set of principles.

  • Retention: State that the matter should be founded on a formal engagement agreement that only can be amended by written agreement of both parties.

  • Conflict of interest: After notice of possible retention in each matter, make sure outside counsel immediately checks and promptly notifies about any potential or actual conflict.

  • Communication: Specify that all documents (from correspondence to pleadings) are sent to the client for review, and that the client is consulted before consultants, expert witnesses or additional counsel are engaged.

  • Budget: Make certain outside counsel prepares and periodically reviews a budget that evaluates risks, assumptions, options for handling the matter, likely timing and sequence of steps, and projected cost for each phase.

  • Staffing: At the start of each matter, ask outside counsel to identify the lawyers assigned and their billing rates. Specify that there are no startup charges for educating new team members.

  • Confidentiality: Require that all work product prepared for each engagement will be client property and will not be shared with other clients of outside counsel without consent, and of course that all files and documents are subject to the fullest attorney-client privilege.

  • Fees: Stipulate all fees, ancillary charges, alternative billing arrangements, trust account provisions and retainer fees, as well as all payment rates and terms up front.

It is essential that the corporate client knows what their outside lawyer is doing and that the client approves of the tactics taken to achieve the client's strategy or goal. By making clear all expectations and objectives right at the start of any relationship, in-house counsel give their outside lawyers as much information as possible about the goals, anticipated strategies, desired outcomes and anticipated operating guidelines for the upcoming engagement.

Making clear the client's objectives and setting forth how to meet them are essential to securing the value the corporate world wants from outside counsel.

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