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In-house counsel give tips to outside firms at forum

In-house counsel give tips to outside firms at forum


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For a law firm that wants to serve as outside counsel for a company, the best thing it can do is have an attorney who is the absolute best in his or her specific area of expertise.

That’s according to panelists who spoke last week at the 2010 Business & Law Breakfast Forum hosted by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly at the Crowne Plaza in Charlotte.

“If you’re the best immigration lawyer in town, then you’re our immigration guy,” said Doug Gunson, the only in-house attorney at Charlotte-based steel producer Nucor Corp. “The only reason your firm is getting our business is because of you.”

The other panelists – Burt Arrington, manager of BB&T’s mergers and acquisitions practice group and the bank’s corporate, securities and regulatory practice group, and King Prather, vice president of legal services and corporate secretary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina – echoed Gunson’s comments.

The panelists said they look at individual attorneys at each firm rather than the firm. Prather and Arrington emphasized that because they have an in-house legal team, they usually seek outside counsel only on specific topics, which means they want attorneys who are experts in their field.

“I like to hire lawyers and then get introduced to the firms,” Prather said. “If I have a lawyer that I know does terrific work, then I’m more likely to want to meet their firm.”

On the other hand, Prather said he dislikes when someone from a law firm brings to his office several attorneys who introduce themselves and tell him what they have to offer. “I don’t have time for that,” he said.

Arrington said he dislikes the attempts some firms make at “courting” him in an attempt to get his business, like taking him out for meals or to events.

“The wining and dining thing, that’s just not my bag,” he said. Because he’s busy, Arrington said he prefers to spend his free time with his family rather than with a lawyer who is trying to win his favor.

When choosing outside counsel, geography can be an important factor, depending on the issue, the panelists said. If it’s a local issue, they look for someone local.

“I can’t deny the benefit of someone being able to come over within the hour,” Prather said. On the other hand, when a business has branches in another state, it’s an advantage to hire someone who knows that state’s laws, the panelists said.

Newsletters could be a good tool for firms to get the attention of a business, so long as they’re timely and insightful, the panelists said. If there’s a case before the Supreme Court, for example, and a firm puts out a newsletter that offers some insight on the case, the panelists said it would catch their eye.

“But sometimes I get a newsletter six months after the issue’s been resolved,” Prather said. “That tells you something about the firm.”

Once a firm or an attorney has been recruited, it’s important that they communicate in a timely fashion and with respect to the company’s preference, the panelists said.

“If you get an e-mail, feel free to respond via e-mail,” Gunson said. “But if you get a call, don’t send an e-mail. There was a reason a call was made.”

The panelists emphasized the importance for attorneys to treat every job as the most important one. They all agreed that that is the best way to get more work.

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