It’s hard to believe that it’s been over six years since I left Biglaw to join a company and that I can no longer claim that I am new to being in-house counsel.
Looking back over my time, I have certainly learned a thing or two. Here are some common mistakes I made or observed.
Advising In A Silo
I distinctly remember visiting one of my business client locations for the first time. For the sake of this story, let’s call them Avenue Q. At Avenue Q, I was introduced to a room full of stakeholders on the tail end of a regular business meeting. After the meeting, I was stopped while I was on my way out and was asked a question. Eager to please and make a good impression — and confident in my answer to the legal question, I shared my legal opinion.
Within a few hours, I was surprised to receive a call from a legal colleague from a different department. Surprised because I didn’t realize that my work phone number even worked yet! After introductions and a little small talk, she asked me if I recently gave advice to Avenue Q, and I proudly said yes, confident in my legal prowess and expected a thank you for taking it off her to-do list.
Little did I know that Avenue Q was engaging in some forum shopping and had already consulted with my legal colleague before asking “the new girl,” me — who gave a different answer, without any background or historical knowledge.
Yeah … don’t be me. Make sure you consult important stakeholders, including your own team.
Only Giving The Legal Analysis
While as in-house counsel, we are obviously lawyers and provide legal advice — business clients can get frustrated if that is all you do. Providing the legal pros and cons and risks is only part of the job. The other part is to consider the practical ramifications of the options presented and helping the client reach a reasonable decision that best fulfills the “why” of said project or of the company. And in some cases, part of the job is also helping the business client defend its decision to other stakeholders, which often involves stating that “legal approved it.”
Because there is more to the job than simply giving the legal analysis, this is why I caution against having a regular practice where business clients go directly to outside counsel. In-house counsel, who usually have a better, more intimate understanding of the business objectives of any given project, as well as any politics that may be involved, should be a part of the process.
Failing To Verify
Isn’t the saying “trust, but verify?” There are times when new laws become effective, and clients need to simply comply. And if your previous roles have only been as outside counsel, you may be under the false impression that all you have to do is to provide the new law to your client.
In reality, you may also need to provide ideas on how to comply with the law — and follow up to ensure that timely changes are made. While your role is probably not execution, “it wasn’t me” still isn’t a great look.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.