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Five Tips for Working with Inside Counsel

When a company has legal trouble, it may grudgingly need to work with outside counsel. While the company may have in-house attorneys, hiring a large law firm with multiple disciplines may be necessary to achieve the company's main objective.

Should you be an attorney in a firm hired by such a company, it may be helpful to think through how the company as client is different from another type of client and how best to work with the company's inside counsel -- who will likely be your main point of contact for the company.

When working with inside counsel, here are five tips to be aware of as you proceed:

  • Align Goals: As an outside counsel, you have to gain the same perspective on a matter that your in-house counterpart possesses, so that you can align your goals. Being on the same page is critical to a successful working relationship.
  • Listen: Listen to what your in-house lawyer is saying and not saying about the goals that the company/client has set in your case, including the ways they plan to achieve these goals and the methods they want to use. Active listening is key. Attorney John Riccione of Aronberg Goldgehn reminds inside counsel that "a good listener makes for a good litigator."
  • Value In-house counsel: Your in-house counsel has a unique and valuable perspective on the company/client. He or she has valuable information that is crucial to your being able to deliver a favorable result. Learn as much as you can about the company/client from your in-house counterpart. In return, as outside counsel, it is your job to make in-house counsel look great to his or her superiors at all times.
  • Make sure everyone is clear about expenses: If the company has a budget when hiring outside counsel, stick to it. The billable hour has strained many relationships between inside and outside counsel. It has caused the parties' goals to diverge. Finding a firm that offers customized alternative fee arrangements to better align the goals of the firm and client will rebuild and enhance a partnering relationship.
  • Build a trusting relationship: The goal of any outside lawyer is to become a trusted advisor, and more than just a vendor. It takes time for each side to build trust, but once it is established, there is no greater relationship.


Every working relationship is unique, of course. But by taking these considerations into account prior to working with inside counsel, and incorporating them into your working strategy, hopefully your relationship with the inside counsel is on the pathway to success.

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