Outside and In-House Counsel – Why the Disconnect?

Perhaps no situation validates the premise behind BizB4Law than the relationship between in-house counsel and their outside private law firm counterparts – that premise being that business issues and objectives should always come before and actually determine the legal approaches and strategies.

There’s a historical tension between in-house and outside lawyers that, if anything, has become more prevalent in the past several years.  Although there are hundreds of articles speculating as to why this tension exists, I think it can be summed up simply – outside counsel doesn’t take the time or care enough to focus on the specific company as a business and the in-house counsel as a business person, rather than viewing both as simply clients or worse yet, viewing the in-house lawyer as only a lawyer (there’s a reason many in house attorneys have additional titles such as Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel). 

Don’t get me wrong, as clients these businesses are entitled to the same benefits and privileges as other clients (e.g., top level service, responsiveness, communication, etc.), but what’s too often missing from outside counsel is the level of commitment necessary to really understand this client and this business/industry, and this division or product line, and this transaction, and of course, this particular in-house attorney.

What I’m really saying is in each relationship with in-house counsel, the outside attorney or firm needs to think not just like a lawyer and a business person, but like a business person at this specific company in this specific situation and with these specific objectives – and the only way outside counsel can do this is if they really know and understand these things about this client.  That means understanding things like budgeting, timing constraints, scope, priorities, etc.

The bottom line is, the tension between in-house and outside counsel is not inherent or inevitable, but rather is the result of a lack of effort and/or commitment by outside counsel – as in-house counsel you should demand more; and as outside counsel we must do better.

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