Intellectual property law changes at an ever-quickening rate, which is one reason Panitch Schwarze takes continuing education seriously. With practice areas across the IP legal spectrum and global services spanning 28 countries, we need to be more than efficient. We need to be on top of our game.
We recently had the opportunity to attend an IP-focused forum hosted by the Association for Legal Administrators (ALA), a leader in providing education and connections for those in law practice management. All the sessions at ALA’s Intellectual Property Conference for Legal Professionals were fruitful, but here are some of the key takeaways from one of our favorites, Outside Counsel Training: Client Instructions Explained. This panel discussion included professionals from Google, Northwestern Mutual, and Entegris, Inc. and put the spotlight on which work methodologies are important from a client’s perspective.
Communication is Key
In a complex area of law like IP, outside counsel is sometimes needed to ensure that critical issues can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Outside counsel are a vital part of every in-house legal team and we need to communicate with them just as effectively as we do internally.
Building a strong in-house/outside counsel relationship requires timeliness and responsiveness from both parties, with consistent feedback about which communication practices are working and which are not. Outside counsel and the in-house team should be true business partners in service to our clients. One of the conclusions we reached after the panel discussion was that we should work toward holding quarterly in-person meetings with our outside partners that include both business and relationship building. An annual review also should be scheduled, for both parties.
Know Partnering Firms at Every Level
Sylvia Chen, Patent Counsel and Patent Operations Lead at Google, emphasized the importance of knowing not just the attorneys at the outside firm, but the paralegals and staff as well. Every person at both firms is a key player, and no one should be hidden from view. As administrators, we don’t need to serve as a gateway by being the liaison for every exchange between the firms. Attorneys like Ms. Chen actually prefer to be directed to the right person at an outside firm needed to solve problems in order to achieve quicker solutions. In-house and outside firms can, for example, exchange a simple but structured “who-to-call list” for everyone in the organization from attorneys to assistants to billing. It’s a great time-saver and an efficient practice that benefits clients, too.
Seek Diversity Tirelessly
Having a responsible approach to diversity is about more than just hiring diverse attorneys. Firms should be asking themselves many questions about how they can be integrating diversity practices into all their activities. Where are the firm’s funds going? What is the firm supporting in the local community? Are there diversity job fairs to become involved with? These are just a few examples.
In addition, it is important to remember that diversity does not simply have to do with color, but also age, gender, and socioeconomic factors. Arlene Hornilla, Vice President and Chief IP Counsel at Entegris, Inc., told the panel that she has a five-question RFP process in which the very first question relates to diversity.
We look forward to the next ALA educational offering so we can continue to hone our processes at Panitch Schwarze. We know that our clients will reap the rewards of our constant search for new efficiencies and our desire to keep in step with the evolving IP legal landscape.