General counsel don’t always get to work directly with a law firm’s high-performing diverse and women attorneys. But instead of waiting for the law firms to make those connections, a group of GCs is doing it in a mentorship program.
Now in its fourth year, the Colorado General Counsel Group’s Advisor Program brings women attorneys and lawyers of diverse backgrounds together with Denver-area in-house lawyers, most of whom are their companies’ chief legal officers. The GCs mentor the outside counsel participants, giving them the insider’s perspective on what corporate clients want and need from outside firm attorneys.
The CGCG Advisor Program’s goal is that high-performing diverse attorneys, who might be less likely than white male attorneys to get face time with GCs, come away with knowledge on how to better serve clients and grow a book of business. The 30 outside counsel participants are associate- and partner-level attorneys with experience ranging from seven to 17 years in legal practice. More than 80 percent of the participants are women. They will be connecting with a pool of 45 in-house lawyers this year.
At its 2018 kickoff session held March 2 at Holland & Hart’s Denver office, Liberty Media Corporation CLO Rich Baer said he co-founded CGCG because he was dissatisfied with the lack of meaningful diversity promotion among law firms in Colorado.
“I would sit down with senior management at the firms and they would want to talk about [their] diversity [efforts] … and they were all just like me — white guys in their fifties,” Baer told the audience of attorneys. “I came from those meetings convinced that none of these lawyers really cared about advancing diversity within their organizations. I said, ‘Screw that, we’re going to create a network for diverse lawyers that they would die to have access to.’ ”
Appliance Factory Outlet General Counsel and CGCG cofounder Dennis Kaw told the participants that the Advisor Program is an opportunity to gain inside knowledge from GCs and “take your career to the next level.” He urged participants to “pay it forward,” however, by sharing what they learn in the program with junior attorneys at their firm and giving them access to the same network.
At the kickoff meeting, GCs gave their two cents on a variety of attorney-client business concerns from litigation to billing. The participants then broke out into small groups to workshop their elevator pitches.
The discussion hit on several points related to communication between outside counsel and client. Patrick O’Rourke, general counsel for the University of Colorado, said an organization’s legal or business goals aren’t always what its outside counsel think they are, so lawyers would benefit from double-checking the stance the organization wants to take on a matter it’s litigating.
“There are a lot of times where we could go to the mat on something, but we’re going to have an ongoing relationship with the party on the other side, or that there’s some reason the goal is other than to grind the other side into dust,” O’Rourke said. “Unless you’re actually trying to clarify the outcome that we’re seeking early, we’re going to be frustrated.”
Wendy Cassidy, general counsel for Zayo Group, touched on the subject of client meetings. She said she doesn’t mind seeing junior attorneys coming along to meetings as long as they’re meaningfully engaged in the business or the matter. “Don’t bring an associate, no matter how young or old, for [only] the token reason,” Cassidy told participants. “Encourage them to learn about the company, just like you all want to.”
Most of the Advisor Program’s participants are litigators, and as such it can be harder for them to have face time with GCs. The panel discussed how litigators can build relationships with in-house counsel even when they’re brought in for “one-off” litigation matters.
Shawn Cheadle, general counsel for Lockheed Martin’s Military Space division, acknowledged that it can be hard for litigators to “stay relevant” and connected to the company after the matter closes. But the “heart of the matter,” he said, “is you’ve got to do really well in the matter.”
“If you’re one-off litigation counsel for us, you’ve got to knock it out of the park, every time,” Cheadle said. “You do really good, that’s repeat business.”
Trust between the outside firm and the client was a common theme throughout the GC panel’s advice. It extended into a well-worn subject — billing.
“I always really like the firms that we work with when we’re surprised by how low the bill is,” said Stephanie Hoos, general counsel for Massive Interactive. She added that it’s happened when the firm was cutting her organization a discount or billing lean while getting the firm’s associates up to speed, as a show of fair dealing. “That’s critical. When I know I don’t have to deal with law firms on that, that I know that I can trust them … it really makes me want to give more work to that firm.”
One of the participants asked the GC group what billing pet peeves they have. Several of the GCs piped up in unison, to laughter, that “that would be a whole other panel.”