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Marketing Tips from Top Female In-House Lawyers

When pitching a corporation for new business – pitch the individual lawyer’s skills, not the entire firm, according to Comcast’s Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Heller.

Heller advised lawyers not to be shy about pitching to her—ask for the work. "If you won a case before an agency—tell us about it," she said. "Don’t assume we know you want the work and that you have the experience to do it." She added that well-written letters detailing a lawyer’s expertise were welcome.

She was among a high-powered panel that shared their tips on what they look for in outside counsel. They spoke at the recent meeting of the ABA Law Practice Management Section in a program jointly sponsored with Pennsylvania Bar Association. Panelists included:

  • Jennifer Heller, Deputy General Counsel, Comcast Corporation
  • Cynthia White, Assistant General Counsel, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Elizabeth A. Allen, Assistant General Counsel, Gannett Co, Inc.
  • Andrea Unterberger, Associate General Counsel and Publications Manager, Corporation Service Company.

They all agreed it was hard, but not impossible, to become counsel to their companies—particularly for regional or state matters. Some of the marketing tips they gave outside lawyers included the following:

Know the local regulators, and know the company

GlaxoSmithKline’s Cynthia White said the company works with 60 preferred firms (down from 300 at the time of their merger) and most are national firms. There are opportunities for local firms who know the local agencies and state regulators who are administering various regulations on which they may need some insight.

Gannett’s Elizabeth Allen said a great way for lawyers to learn about her company was to be part of the audit process. A bonus is that lots of new matters usually crop up during the process. Andrea Unterberger encouraged lawyers to call her for a tour of her company and to meet key employees.

Don’t go around me

Elizabeth Allen reminded lawyers to be on the up-and–up in dealing with in-house lawyers. She told the story of a lawyer trying to get work from Gannett who had been politely turned away by an in-house lawyer. Not willing to take the staff lawyer’s "no" for an answer, the outside lawyer called the GC’s office saying the in-house lawyer had told him to set up a meeting with the GC. The in-house Gannett lawyer found out about this call and sent the lawyer a letter (copying the whole Gannett legal department) stating that the company would never work with this lawyer.

Give respect to the in-house lawyer. Andrea Unterberger told the story of calling a partner at a law firm only to be called back by the associate. She wanted to speak to the partner. She told the story to emphasize the point that outside counsel should always get the respect and attention of its outside lawyers.

Give me advice for the business executives

The panelists agreed that they want lawyers to give them advice and recommendations in a form most useful to them. That usually is in bullet form because their business people often listen in sound bites. Ask your client how he/she needs your advice—and in what form.

In-house lawyers are often viewed by their clients—the business executives-- in the following way:

  1. I can not do anything till you say OK.
  2. You are keeping me from making money.
  3. You are a cost center.

Outside counsel should keep this in mind said, Gannett’s Allen. When the company’s employees bring her a new product, idea or strategy for review and she asks for outside counsel’s advice, she does not want to hear "no, you can not do this" from her outside counsel. In keeping with No. 1 and 2 above, she wants outside counsel to say "here is what will work" so Elizabeth can work with her client—the business folks and help them help the company.

It also helps in-house counsel look great to their clients if you can get them the answers to their questions right away. They, in turn, can then deliver quick advice to their clients which helps them be viewed as an asset to the process.

A great secretary/assistant is key—and GCs know it

Make sure whoever answers your phone can deliver a clear, ungarbled message to you or others in your firm. General counsel know who has a great secretary and can find their outside lawyers in a pinch. Conversely, in-house legal departments always know which lawyers have terrible staffs.

E-Newsletters, Alerts and White Papers

All agreed that no law firm should send them news that is a few days old. Even week-old news is too late. If law firms are going to use these tools, they must get the news out literally within HOURS to clients. Otherwise, the in-house lawyer is likely to hear the news from her employees first. The example was given of how one U.S. agency issues its press releases at 10 AM. She suggested law firms get her news of the summary by 3:30 PM. The alert need say nothing more than: "This news just came out, this is the thrust of it and an analysis of it will follow tomorrow."

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