April 2014 Dicta
by Jaime Ramos
On March 20, 2014, DAYL’s In-House Counsel Committee invited panelists, Erin K. Barta (General Counsel at Mannatech), Christine Son (Vice President and Corporate Counsel at Xerox), and PJ Putnam (General Counsel at Calvet Companies), to share their insight on how in-house and outside counsels can become effective business partners. In-House Counsel Co-Chair Ron Rohde (General Counsel at CP Homes) moderated the panel.
The panelists brought diverse industry backgrounds to the table, highlighting their experience in litigation, international law, and various markets in nutrition, retail stores, and software businesses. The panel emphasized that although laws and regulations vary by industry, all in-house attorneys share a common factor—learning the requisite skill of communicating effectively with business counterparts to minimize risks. The company may not always agree with counsel’s advice or vice versa, but it is important for the attorney to provide alternative recommendations. A hard “no” should rarely be the answer, since counsel and business leaders are on the same side. To foster a cooperative environment, Ms. Son encourages an open-door policy, which allows business leaders to freely discuss options in reaching the overarching goal of benefitting the company as a whole.
Panelists also urged both in-house and outside counsels to know the business. This is especially essential for outside attorneys looking to become a solid business partner. For example, Mr. Putnam shared that a law firm offered to visit a company on a Saturday to explore a video game developed by that company. Because the firm took the extra step in learning more about the company’s business, Mr. Putnam hired the firm. The law firm later became a business partner in Mr. Putnam’s subsequent positions in other in-house roles.
In further insistence of attorneys knowing the business, Ms. Barta advised attorneys to join trade associations (outside of legal organizations) related to the business. The company will see value in attorneys who are engaged and knowledgeable. The attorneys will also be better equipped with an arsenal of new contacts from these associations to better serve the company.
In closing, Mr. Rohde asked the panelists to turn back time and offer advice to their former, inexperienced personas. Few said they had no regrets and one expressed the need for more networking.