A March 10, 2016, forum heard from corporate chief legal officers. From L to R: Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; and Ahron Cohen, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.
Among the things a lawyer audience appreciates the most are smart and candid remarks by corporate counsel. Those were in rich supply at a March 10 event hosted by the Jewish Federation’s Cardozo Society.
The General Counsel Forum was held at the Phoenix office of Perkins Coie and moderated by Eliot Kaplan, Business & Professionals Chair and partner at the firm.
The panelists were the following General Counsel:
- Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel
- Ahron Cohen, Arizona Coyotes General Counsel
- Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel
- Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson GC
The topics raised by moderator Eliot Kaplan were well selected as of the most interest to attendees. First up was panelists describing their work and what elements most appealed to them. Audience members were likely not surprised to hear the corporate counsel liked their jobs quite a bit.
Comparing his work in a law firm and his in-house work now, DeRespino appreciates that now there are “fewer distractions expected of me,” and he can focus more simply on the practice of law.
In-house counsel, he said, “get to know a particular client and focus on business solutions. That always was what the practice of law is supposed to be for me.”
But aren’t the hours in-house better? Yes, but … said Richard Lustiger.
“There are fewer hours but they’re more intense. You’re dealing with the crisis du jour.”
The other panelists agreed on the differences between in-house and “outhouse” (which got quite a laugh). Ohre contrasted the difference by describing “legal speed and business speed.” And, like DeRespino, Ahron Cohen enjoys the fact that he can concentrate more on “macro goals” rather than the “micro goals” that are the focus in law firms.
A primary mission of corporate counsel is offering sometimes challenging legal advice that may run hard into the company’s business goals.
Ohre said that he and other corporate counsel may occasionally be called “Mr. No” by colleagues on the business side. But getting brought in earlier in a strategic process may decrease the prevalence of No in the conversation.
Cohen agreed and said finding a way to say yes goes a long way. If the lawyer can help the company achieve its business goals, that will help foster trust in the legal department.
“The legal department should not get the reputation of being the place where deals go to die,” said Lustiger—though he added that some deals need to die. “Improve the output and be a better partner for the company.”
Communicating clearly, concisely, and free of legalese is probably the most important skill an in-house counsel can develop, panelists agreed.
“You have to learn to talk to people who may not particularly like lawyers,” said DeRespino. “It’s a complex dynamic when you want someone to heed your counsel.”
From L to R: Raphael Avraham, Cardozo Society Chair; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Ahron Cohen, Arizona Coyotes General Counsel; Eliot Kaplan, Business & Professionals Chair and Partner at Perkins Coie; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.
But all of that work building relationships is worth it, DeRespino added.
“It’s a tremendous value to speak with your client with absolute candor.”
More information about the Cardozo Society is here. Congratulations to moderator Eliot Kaplan and the Society for a terrific program.