Working with Your In-House Legal Department

As a contract manager, purchaser, sales manager, or department head, have you ever felt like your in-house attorney was ignoring you?  Do other departments seem to get priority treatment from the legal department, while your deals languish at the bottom of the pile waiting for the lawyers to sign off?  Here are a few tips to improve your working relationship with your internal legal department, and move up in the internal legal food chain:

  1. Explain the deal to your attorney. They’re not mind readers. They don’t know if the deal you’ve discussed with your supplier/ customer is actually the deal that is reflected in the written document.  Give them a short, basic outline of what you’ve agreed upon when you give them the contract. Don’t just throw the contract over to your attorney without giving an explanation or context. That’s what everyone else does!
  2. Review your supplier/ customer objections to your contract before sending to your attorney. You’d be surprised how many “contract/ legal” issues lawyers deal with that are actually issues that the business people should have addressed before turning over the document to their legal departments. For example, I am often asking my seller clients if they understand that they are signing up to a 3 year firm price agreement. They’ll tell me that is not the discussion they had with their customer.  However, they haven’t read the contract. So many people are intimidated by the contract that they don’t even read it.
  3. Give your in-house counsel enough time. If you put yourselves in the shoes of the company attorney, you might imagine how many things come across his or her desk with a ‘URGENT’ stamped on them. Think about your own situation: How many of your internal customers tell you their project is “hot”?  Your attorney will be much more responsive to you in the long-term if you always make sure to give them a sufficient amount of time for review—at least a week.  Attorneys much prefer to deal with the ‘reasonable’ departments and personnel, and may give those projects more time and attention.
  4. Consider how you loop your attorney in with information. Find the appropriate balance between carbon-copying your attorney on every email communication and keeping them entirely in the dark until the day before the contract deadline.
  5. Get organized. Your in-house counsel is likely buried under documents.  It will make your attorney’s job much easier if you send a single email with all of the necessary documents attached, or drop by the legal department with a complete file.  Sending documents or email correspondence piecemeal is likely to put you on their black list.  Attorneys particularly like a one-page time line summaries of the deal, summaries of the important points that were negotiated, or summaries of important materials and documents.  Good organization is always appreciated.
  6. Get back to your attorney promptly. If your attorney asks for more information, or calls you with a status update, you should make it a priority to get back to him or her as quickly as possible.  Your attorney is balancing multiple projects simultaneously, and the more quickly you respond, the more likely your deal will be to move to the top of the list.
  7. Lawyers are people too. If you’re a newer employee, or even if you’ve been with the company for years, stop by the legal department to introduce yourself in person.  Getting to know your internal attorneys and staff is one of the best ways to make sure your deals get speedy review.  You know: the more familiar you are with the person who emails you, the more likely you are to respond. Lawyers are also not above being encouraged with free food or other goodies.  You might be surprised at how far you can get with your attorneys through their stomachs! Personally, I love M&Ms!

Leslie S. Marell has more than 25 years of experience as in-house counsel and as a legal adviser working with businesses, business people, and business contracts, in the technology, manufacturing, software, and medical device industries.  She understands the real-world practicalities of what it takes to draft, review, and negotiate corporate contracts, and has presented her dynamic seminars to Fortune 500 companies and small to mid-sized businesses across the country.  Leslie specializes in helping contract analysts, project managers, and department leaders work better with their own internal legal departments and outside counsel.  To learn more about Leslie’s seminars, or get expert advice on contracting matters, contact Leslie at (310) 372-8663, or visit her online.