For today’s General Counsel Corner, I had the pleasure of having a phone interview with Clay Matthews, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel for NewMarket Corporation. The question I had for Mr. Matthews was: 

What is your process for selecting outside counsel?" 

His answer was quite interesting, because while some of it was in line with things we’ve heard before, quite a bit of it goes against the grain. He told me: 

When you come in-house, you inherit outside counsel from your predecessors. A lot is legacy.  In addition to that, most of the time, you’ve already had a private practice career, and have friends from outside firms. You know who the competent ones are, and stow away that information."

Not everyone that you like as a person is a suitable attorney, so it becomes a dance. You learn to deflect those you can’t use." 

What criteria is important then? Extreme competence – I need to be comfortable with their legal skills. They don’t need to be someone I could have a beer with.  It’s not easy to find someone like that, because those who are really, really good are also really busy.  And they don’t do a lot of their own rainmaking." 

It’s hard, so I’m always on the lookout for those who can do a better job.  It would help to find multiple people in the same firm, but it is true that we hire lawyers, not law firms."

I found Mr. Matthews’ response fascinating, because we hear so often from clients that "relationships are important" and people want to "do business with those they know, like, and trust." But instead, Mr. Matthews is telling us that it doesn’t matter if he would like to spend time with his counsel; he just wants them to be the best at what they do. 

The lesson I get from this is one I mention often here, and that is that there is no "one size fits all" for clients – where some clients want the relationship to be paramount, others just want the top experts. It’s up to lawyers to work to be nimble in understanding what each client and potential client values, so that they can deliver it to them. 

Mr. Matthews is looking for lawyers who are excellent at their craft, and can show or tell him quickly and succinctly why that is. So ask yourselves – do you know which of your clients/potential clients prefer to be wooed, and which prefer to get down to brass tacks? Can you articulate in thirty seconds or less why a client would want to hire you? 

Thanks again to Mr. Matthews for participating in our General Counsel Corner!