103: Outside Counsel That Cares with Lisa Howlett of Hunter Roberts

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Let’s Not ‘Do’ Lunch

In episode 103 we featured Lisa Howlett, General Counsel, SVP and Secretary of Hunter Roberts Construction Group.  Lisa ensures her organization has effective advice and representation working on legal issues related to construction, contracts, corporate transactions, real estate, labor/employment law as well as strategic business consulting and intellectual property matters.  Lisa Howlett on LinkedIn

Lisa learned early that the two key skills of in-house and outside counsel are listening and being responsive to the businessperson you’re assisting; learning what they’re trying to accomplish.  Today, she hires outside counsel that cares and understands the personal and professional risk in-house attorneys are taking by bringing in outside counsel in with the hope they’ll provide valuable assistance that fulfills a business need.

Establishing trust with outside counsel is important, and as matters change and organizations grow you can’t rely only on people you know.  Continuously evaluate other outside counsel and be open to working with new people.  Look for attorney’s that are prepared and knowledgeable but also willing to share ideas in their area of expertise.

Save the meal invitations and trying to establish a business relationship by creating a social one first; no thank you.  Invite Lisa or someone on her team to a CLE, have coffee before; or introduce her and her team to someone who can help them.  Assist the team by providing something beneficial to the business.   Social relationships don’t create business relationships; helping solve business problems creates business relationships.

For Lisa and the businesses, she represents cost certainty is important.  RFPs are done for larger opportunities and smaller opportunities are often sent to new firms on a trial basis.  She looks for lawyers and firms that will work with her; that is willing to discuss alternative fees; looking for predictability where it exists breaking down the components of a deal and getting creative with overall costs.

As willing as she is to recommend paying for the advice of a specialist partner; Lisa and her team want to manage and be fiscally responsible about components leading up to advice.  Balancing alternatives to be efficient, including working with outside counsel for advice and in-house counsel and technology for document review her in-house department is stretching out in the new legal model.

In today’s world, the management of information is key and in-house counsel sees value in the culling of information done by outside parties presenting information to clients in a usable format.  Lisa is also a fan of co-utilizing technology recommended by the firms she’s working with.  Jointly using technology shows a commitment to efficiency and the long-term relationship.

Lisa’s advice to new lawyers just starting out?  When looking to establish a professional network that could ultimately provide business for your practice Lisa suggests looking at your peers and building for tomorrow.   When given the opportunity to bid on business make sure you convey the values of your firm.  In-house legal is aligning hired legal staff with members of a business team they need to know that the firm and lawyers are in alignment with the mission of the client and the firm.

Today’s legal industry lacks middle-level lawyers many left 2008-2010 exactly when law school attendance dropped. The opportunity exists and there are many different avenues for junior associates today.