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Inside/Outside Counsel: Relationships mean everything

The end of the year is an especially good time of the year for inside and outside counsel to connect to obtain and provide useful feedback about the relationship and about the upcoming year's goals for the client business. Despite busy year-end calendars, clients appreciate the opportunity to have a year-end review, preferably initiated by their outside counsel.

For outside counsel, here is a straight-forward format for a year-end review, compliments of input from various in house counsel and our consultants:

Client service questions to consider:

  • How would you describe the relationship with us?

  • What would you consider the most important elements of a professional relationship?

  • Are there specific areas that we could improve?

  • How would you describe the quality of our work?

  • Regarding value, how do we compare to other law firms?

  • Would you suggest any changes?

Upcoming year planning questions to consider:

  • What are your top three priorities this year?

  • Can you describe your goals and objectives for the coming year?

  • What potential challenges does the company face?

  • Where do you see the business going in 1, 3 or 5 years?

  • What are the critical company initiatives for the upcoming year?

  • What growth opportunities do you foresee in the future?

  • What are the greatest challenges you’re facing in the legal dept.?

  • What's currently working in the legal dept.? What's not?

  • How do you see using outside counsel to help you achieve your goals?

  • What criteria are used for selecting outside counsel?

We also asked clients if they had any advice for outside counsel for 2016 and here are some quick tips for strengthening the relationships:

  1. As always, “understand our business” remains number one on the list. Meaning, not just what industry we are in but what is going on with the industry overall, what's happening with our suppliers and most of all what our big goals are for growth and for legal cost containment (senior litigation counsel, global investment advisory firm, N.Y.).

  2. Please introduce us to the team members who work on our files. Seeing names on emails and billing reports of people we have not met reminds us the relationship with the firm has room for improvement (general counsel, technology company, Calif.).

  3. Come tell us (based on 1 above) about other ways in which your firm may be of help to us. Don't assume we read your website. We always welcome discussion about how we may work further with the firm as long as it is a productive discussion and we can meet the lawyers (general counsel, global financial services firm, Mass.).

  4. Make the effort to visit us at least annually. Especially if we are giving the firm work. If it's not worth the trip, maybe it's not worth having the relationship at all (general counsel, Europe, pharmaceutical company).

  5. We really like our relationships with outside counsel and see them as part of our team (this one was mentioned by a few in-house counsel). Come visit and let us know what else is going on in our business world from your perspective and your work with other companies like ours.

  6. If you have good talent who are not working out at your firm, (other than being a good lawyer which always comes first) then call us to ask us if we would be interested in having them as a member of our team. We look to hire good talent (IP counsel, medical device company, Calif.).

  7. When it comes to value add, think outside the box. CLEs are great but so are other programs that help us with the business of law. (senior litigation counsel, health care provider, Minn.).

Upon reflection, most of these great tips are relationship-oriented and welcome opportunity to build new and strong relationships with clients throughout 2016 and beyond.

Silvia Coulter

Silvia Coulter is a principal consultant with LawVision Group LLC. Reach her at

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