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The Friday Five

5 Tips on Working with Silicon Valley In-House Counsel

By Laura Ernde

Takeaways from the 10th Annual LMA Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Summit.

After the pandemic ushered in remote work, lawyers who serve as outside counsel to Silicon Valley tech companies quickly forged new ways of working with their in-house counterparts. But now that economic headwinds have arrived, it’s more important than ever for outside counsel to nurture those relationships and provide top service.

Five Tips on Working with Silicon Valley In-House Counsel

The Bay Area Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association recently checked in with Silicon Valley in-house counsel and leaders to learn more about how they like to work with outside counsel in this ever-uncertain environment. Here are top takeaways from the panel featuring Dama Brown, Jordan Coleman, Farschad Farzan, and Lam Nguyen.

1. Remote Work Is Here To Stay

Even with offices reopening, many in tech are still working remotely — at least some of the time. LMA’s panel of in-house tech company lawyers said the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. No one misses the days of hopping on a plane just to have an hour-long meeting. Regular Zoom meetings and phone calls get the job done more conveniently and efficiently for everyone.

“My biggest take in working with outside counsel is I have noticed a quality improvement,” said Kodiak Robotics General Counsel Jordan Coleman. “Lawyers feel more refreshed and feel they have better work-life balance.”

As in-person events resume, panelists said they favor the option to participate remotely.

“If asked to be at a live event in July, I’m not sure I would go,” said Dama Brown, senior marketing counsel at Roofstock. “I favor hybrid. It appeals to a wider audience and makes sense considering inflation and budgetary pressures.”

However, after two-plus years of relative isolation, many in-house lawyers crave human interaction. Perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone and invite a colleague to lunch or coffee, they said.

2. Mindful of Budgets, GCs Are Turning to Boutique Law Firms

Facing the Great Resignation and increased competition to recruit and retain top talent, many law firms are focused on touting benefits such as high associate pay scales.

But the in-house legal teams lament that those associate salary increases don’t translate into better service. With interest rates rising and the stock market falling, in-house lawyers are under increasing pressure to tighten their budgets.

Outside lawyers should be mindful of these financial pressures, panelists said. Some suggested law firms find creative ways to lower the bill, or consider offering a discount upfront before the GC asks.

Silicon Valley technology companies have many choices when it comes to legal service providers.

“There’s legal talent across the country in firms of all sizes,” Brown said. “We’re looking at boutique and nimble firms that turnaround work, not necessarily accompanied by a brand name and a huge fee.”

Coleman suggested that law firms leverage the geographic flexibility of remote work by assigning work to lawyers who live outside Silicon Valley with lower billing rates or offering incentives for lawyers to live in those areas.

3. GCs Continue to Seek Diverse Outside Counsel

In addition to affordable fees from their outside counsel, in-house legal teams also want to see a genuine commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Lam Nguyen, patent litigation counsel at Google, said a pitch that doesn’t address DEI efforts is likely to be ignored. “Folks here take it very seriously.”

That doesn’t mean that every firm has to meet a strict quota. The legal profession has been slow to diversify by race and ethnicity. According to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, lawyers of color represented 14.6% of the profession in 2021, up by less than three percentage points from a decade earlier.

But don’t gloss over the challenges or present a diverse team at a pitch only to switch out the team after the deal is signed, panelists said.

“On the flip side, take advantage of programs we have,” Lam said, such as partnering on mentorship and training for women and people of color. “We want to work with our outside counsel. We view it as part of our issue too.”

4. Outside Counsel Should Be Proactive

Lawyers working with in-house legal teams should not take those connections for granted and be proactive in providing good service.

Check in regularly to make sure you are meeting expectations, the panelists advised. A conversation is better than a marketing survey.

“If you set up a meeting, expect honest feedback,” said Farschad Farzan, associate general counsel and chief compliance officer at Logitech.

“Even if you have a great relationship, you can still identify issues that can be improved. That will build trust.

Other suggestions for being proactive:

  • Give notice as early as possible if a project is going over budget.
  • Look for ways to save your clients money rather than waiting for them to ask.
  • Invest in innovation and technology, and be open to doing things differently.
  • Assess the quality of the relationship and give it as much weight as the billable hour when awarding bonuses.

5. Work Your Advantages

The good news from the 2022 Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Summit: Lawyers have many tools at their disposal to provide top-notch legal services in these uncertain times. A lawyer who has taken the time to learn the client’s business and how they like to work will have the advantage when pitch proposals are due.

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Laura Ernde Laura Ernde

Laura Ernde is a San Francisco-based communications consultant. Informed by her background as a legal journalist and State Bar communications director, she helps lawyers and law firms create compelling content to engage with clients and potential clients. She serves on the programming committee of the Legal Marketing Association’s Bay Area Chapter. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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