What CEOs (and Other Clients) Want

It was my second week as the bank holding company’s newly minted general counsel, and I walked into my CEO’s office late in the afternoon with one question: “What type of general counsel do you want me to be for you?”

Without missing a beat, my new boss answered quickly with two words: ”No surprises!” His answer, though straightforward, would cause me many hours of restless sleep over the next eight years.

After a few months in the position, I was able to better understand what he meant by “no surprises” with firsthand experience. What he wanted and needed from his counsel, both in house and outside, was predictability. He told me, “It’s okay to tell me candidly whether you think we will win or lose in litigation; it’s okay to be direct.”

Unforeseen ImageHe encouraged me to seek early settlement and early dispute resolution opportunities. He also tremendously valued not ever being surprised by the overall legal spend. Any change in the legal budget might have caused the bank to miss its dividend projections, so the consequences were serious.

Outside counsel and their business development professionals should always ensure clients know what is coming up in any legal matter. They should provide regular updates when they hit certain benchmarks and always give a heads up on any unexpected changes or anticipated spending overages. It sounds fairly simple, but we hear all the time in interviews from clients who don’t receive that hugely important client service.

My CEO loved predictability—and I did, too. We not only slept better because our outside counsel provided it but also rewarded those lawyers with repeat business.

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