Just at the beginning of summer, we had the luxury of sitting down with some leading in-house counsel to get their views on the issues most pressing to the legal profession in 2012. Some of their answers might surprise you. Some may inspire you to change the way you serve them. We invited Rudy Parga, managing partner of Ryley Carlock, to join us for the law firm perspective, as counsel met at his firm for a frank discussion. Benford: What is the biggest challenge facing the legal profession in general? Boyle: In my area – securities, corporate governance and mergers and acquistions work, I find the increasing abundance of new regulation and compliance work to be very very challenging. An abundance of rules and regulations has spurred so much additional work – and you add on top of that what my people would consider normal compliance work, and that is my challenge as in-house counsel. Tsirigotis: Since we are speaking for ON here, I think for IP we have new regulations such as the America Invents Act which impact things such as due diligence. Also for us the other huge issue is globalization. This has been one of the biggest challenges we have been seeing and impacts every aspect of law and the economy. It is exciting, but it is challenging. Rasor: I work with a lot of municipal clients. The city attorneys that I work with are so understaffed right now. They actually have no help. They actually look to me and my team to do legal research. The economy has taken its toll on municipal governments, and that has made my job much more challenging. Rogers: Biggest challenge? How do you filter and prioritize. You are training teammates in the field out there and you can’t take up every minute of their day with this, and so you have to make choices about your risk assessments, what is most likely, what is coming hardest, quickest, who is the most aggressive out there. Cerda: I think many lawyers in-house find that they need to shift the role of their companies to a proactive culture of compliance, from a perhaps more traditional notion of reactive damage control sort of role. You need to set that tone from the top down. Having your GC have a very good relationship with your CEO is critical for setting that tone and it’s the only way to get your business teams to accept and to trust that lawyers understand the value of the resources of the company and the prioritization that needs to be made with all the factors: business, political, risk. Benford: What is the one thing you wish outside counsel would learn from your perspective? Rogers: I would say, don’t over-lawyer and don’t assume that legal is the only solution. As Clarissa mentioned, there in an evolving role of being in as much in the business – and it’s a business role as much as a purely legal role and that, the best advice is to minimally touch or touch not at all. Find another solution other than a legal solution all together Boyle: If you don’t take that practical approach and ROI approach, you end up really getting bogged down and not being effective, not being timely. Cerda: In the corporate world, you have to take into account the business context which includes the internal and external business landscape. A great idea or solution that does not work with either internal issues or the external political landscape is equally not helpful. And most importantly, when you are working with the inside teams – if my lawyers don’t provide you with the business context, ask them. Tsirigotis: We are always talking to the general counsel about budgets and how to control them. To have outside counsel who can truly understand that and will look at what needs to be done and recognize those areas that we don’t have to have the highest per hour attorneys – and the willingness to work with other firms, which provides not only the expertise that we like, but a much better cost balance with expertise. So you get the best for the best cost. Rogers: When I was at a prior company and had not been in house very long there was a claim that was very significant. Had we chosen to pursue it, that company would probably still be in litigation today. We showed it to an outside firm and they would have been gainfully employed for the last decade on it, yet they recommended on the whole not pursuing it. It was a real eye opener for somebody to say, I don’t think you should do it. That was a good experience. Parga: As outside counsel, I think there are times where some people are very good at writing law reviews. That doesn’t help an in-house counsel who literally has twenty different matters, some of them that they didn’t wake up in the morning thinking were even going to exist. And the job has got to be to try to make their job more clear and successful. And, the overriding thought is this has to be done in a cost-effective manner. Tsirigotis: I would also like to turn it around and ask Rudy what can in-house counsel do better to communicate better to communicate and work better with the outside counsel? Parga: I think at the beginning of any new engagement, having a very clear and direct conversation with outside counsel on the overall objective of the particular assignment. Also, what is the threshold of what the company is willing to invest into a matter – its level of importance. Objectives can change, but the initial conversation is very helpful. Rogers: I think you’re more than likely to have those best experiences with lawyers with whom you have built relationships over time. You can’t just shop by rates. It is over time that you really start to get the value. Boyle: I have two extremes. The Sanyo semiconductor transaction which could be a once in a lifetime transaction for me, which was very complex and involved a very large law firm who had a huge Japan presence for us, being based out of San Francisco. On the other hand, I get some great 1934 Act compliance advice from a local firm here, that is just, just critical. Not only are they top notch lawyers, but they are great to work with and they’re available no matter what time I call. Rasor: Bottom line, I need to like you. You need to understand the various personalities – mine is different from our GC and to work with both uf us, you need to understand that. Rogers: One thing I would add. I don’t like surprises. I don’t even like good surprises anymore. What I want is predictability. It is also important to understand the reporting lines. We as the in-house counsel are the quarterbacks and we are on the front lines. Because of that evolving role we talked about…the business role of the in-house counsel, outside counsel helping us meet our objectives and understanding the context is critical.
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