I’m proud to present a guest post from technology and media lawyer @BrettTechLawyer.
The legal fraternity has been debating three topics during the past few weeks. A popular online lawyer, known only as LegalBizzle, started the first strand of the discussion by asking whether or not we buy lawyers or law firms and he wrote about it here. The genesis of that particular blog post was a Twitter debate which took place over the preceding weekend and in which a few online lawyers took part.
The second topic has been lead, mainly, by in-house lawyer Tim Bratton (@legalbrat). Tim makes an excellent and eloquent contribution to what private practice lawyers should consider in order to attract the attention of and provide better service to their in-house general counsel cousins. Tim could quite rightly have charged good money for the advice he gives in his blog. All private practice lawyers should read it. Tim’s piece is here.
I will come to the third topic later.
As valuable and as useful as the in-house insights are I cannot help but wonder why private practice lawyers need them in the first place. Surely every private practice website or marketing message that has been produced for any private practice law firm in the history of the universe all say things like “we know our clients’ business”, “we think differently”, “we’re not like other lawyers”. Sound familiar?
When engaging with Legalbizzle via Twitter it became apparent that perhaps a response from the private practice side might be useful given the amount of insight and information becoming available from the in-house lawyers. Barry Gross (@UKLegalEagle) took up the challenge which you can read here. I take a pragmatic approach to this part of the debate. I’m a service provider and it’s my job to respond to what clients need.
Now I confess that I straddle both sides of this discussion as I have been in private practice at Big Firm LLP and currently am in private practice once again. Sandwiched in the middle was five years as an in-house counsel at various companies and this has shaped my thoughts.
From my experiences I have concluded this: no private practice lawyer can truly understand their clients’ business in any real and meaningful way until they have spent some time in-house or perhaps have had an alternative career before the law. But I’d like to expand on that to in house lawyers: if you have to educate your lawyers in how you need to be serviced, find new lawyers or better yet, wait for the good ones to find you. Once they do, engage with them, you might be surprised at where the real value and energy comes from.
That brings me to third topic and the spectacularly honest blog post from Tom Kilroy (@kilroyt) here. Tom questions the value and the role of a legal counsel in an in-house context, but his advice applies to all lawyers. We all must be trusted counsel and advisors to whoever our clients are. In-house counsel your CEO, your COO, your CFO need you to advise them. That is what they want and how you demonstrate value. The same applies to private practice lawyers; clients want your guidance based on your experience derived from your exposure to the market.
Making a valuable contribution requires us to consider the question asked and then simply to take and express a view. When we are asked for advice we need to have an opinion. At the heart of it our clients are all buying lawyers. I’ve been told by a CEO I worked for that he would prefer a wrong opinion to none at all. His words supplemented were with “I pay you for your guidance, so give it!”
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Speaking as a litigator, my view is that all lawyers should express an opinion. Nearly all clients will want at least an initial “gut feel”.