Corporate Counsel: Want to Be Successful? Do Triage, Be Adaptable, and Have Loyal Outside Counsel

Originally Published in Corporate Counsel | September 8, 2015 | By Sue Reisinger

One of the most critical lessons for a new in-house counsel is that there will always be more work than you can manage, so you must quickly learn to prioritize and be comfortable with your decisions, according to Eric Schwimmer, chief litigation counsel at Prudential Financial Inc.

Schwimmer talked about supervising in-house counsel in preparation for his panel on Sept. 10 at the Corporate Litigation Executive Roundtable sponsored by the Consero Group, a legal event coordinator. His topic: Best Practices in The Way You Manage Your In-House Lawyers.

To be successful at Prudential, a lawyer must “have emotional intelligence, know who they are and how to size up their audience,” said Schwimmer, who has been with Prudential 21 years. “They need to be able to adapt their message and be flexible, not just go through things in a rote fashion, not like a script.”

Other key factors for in-house lawyers, he added, was establishing relationships, building trust and cultivating “the ability to receive constructive feedback, and not only to hear it, but to solicit it and be open to it and use it as a way to grow.”

Schwimmer has held various positions at Prudential, including chief legal officer for human resources, before becoming head of litigation in 2011. Previously he was an employment lawyer and litigator at Paul Hastings.

Another panelist at the Consero event is David Levine, Americas head of litigation and regulatory enforcement at Deutsche Bank AG. Levine’s panel is tackling the subject of Inside-Outside Counsel Partnerships: Finding A Winning Formula For Success.

Levine advised that any law firm that wants to take on his company as a new client first needs to set out the reasons why he should make a change to his existing law firm roster.

“In litigation, Deutsche Bank and all major corporations have longstanding relationships with firms that have a proven track record and have gotten us positive results. Why would we veer away to new firms?”

He said he finds it “surprising that law firms still resort to textbook ‘meet and greets’ with no unique sales pitch.”

His first question at law firm sales pitches is always why should he think of your firm when a new matter arises rather than use his current firms.

“You would be surprised at the difficulty firms have answering this question,” said Levine, who spent eight years at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including as chief of staff in the chairman’s office, before joining the bank.

He said his company is “pretty strict” about imposing alternative fee arrangements, capping fees that can be raised only when there is an unexpected broadening of scope in a matter, and seeking competitive offers from law firms on handling a case.

Levine said Deutsche Bank favors outside counsel that are strategic, proactive and able to think more broadly about all manner of risks potentially involved in a matter. “We also favor those who can advise on ‘horizon risk’ – what they see as meaningful issues coming down the pike,” he added.