Interview With Rich Cohen, President and General Counsel
Corporate Creations is the third largest provider of registered agent and compliance services nationwide for Fortune 1000 companies, Global 2000 companies and private companies. It also provides registered agent services for many law firms and their clients. Corporate Creations is a privately held company. It was founded in 1993 and has been profitable every year since its founding.
Q: In your best relationships with outside counsel, what are the two most important things other lawyers could learn from them?
A: Two things. First, it is truly a partnership. And outside counsel need to not try to be the hero; I have to be perceived as the hero for having hired them. The goal is to create a partnership where we communicate appropriately to management on items that occur to help get back to the business sooner rather than later and be strategic along the way.
Q: And, of course, the follow-up: What are the things outside counsel should never do?
A: They should never avoid communicating and communicating well. They need to over communicate and address questions or problems quickly. There is no magic potion. It is either going to work or not, and you have to recognize that sooner than later or move on.
Q: How has purchasing legal services changed?
A: I’ve been in house for over 30 years. Outside counsel recognizes they are required to be more competitive. There needs to be more predictability, better budgeting, more creative approaches to lawyering and a shared understanding that when things go well, we all win, and when they don’t go well, we all bleed.
Q: With all the highly-qualified lawyers out there, what factors really influence your hiring decisions?
A: I have a very simple litmus test: Who would I have to my house for dinner? I assume everyone coming before me is competent as we have them vetted before they show up. I ask who do I have enough confidence in that I would place my career in their hands.
Q: Competition is fierce among law firms; what have law firms done effectively to market to you that captured your attention?
A: One, they need to know my business. Two, they need to recognize that the firm that can get me a result sooner than later (or a decision sooner than later as to whether I have a problem or not) is the firm that is going to succeed. I am not in the business of litigating; I am in the business of our business.
Q: What law firm trends are you seeing that you would like to come to a screeching halt?
A: It’s not something that needs to come to a screeching halt, but young associates that have just been hired and that are assigned to work for a client should be put into clients’ legal departments as interns to learn about the business and its people. Younger lawyers who are new in their careers have to understand their education is a process, not an event. When they graduate from law school, they are not capable of practicing. They need to not just understand the law but the business of law and have to learn what a client really needs, and that will make them more valuable to a law firm and absolutely to a client. At the end of the day, it is all about relationships.
Q: What is your greatest challenge as in-house counsel?
A: The greatest challenge, which is different than it used to be, is that internal clients don’t have patience for answers to be researched. The practice of law used to be responsive and now it is reactive. It’s all about answers now, not later.
Q: Lawyers often are worried that seeking client feedback, ascertaining the client’s preferences or learning more about the business will be viewed by the client as an imposition. How would you respond to that concern?
A: Feedback should be a constant ingredient and not an added widget at the end of an engagement. It’s an essential ingredient like flour in a cupcake. At the end of the day, feedback is a two-way street, and in order to make it more efficient you have to have constant, appropriate and honest feedback and not be afraid of what you hear. And that works for both sides. It’s the law firms telling in-house counsel what they need and how they are doing. People assume, rightly or wrongly, that they are doing a good job. Also, there is a cultural shift among millennials that they don’t like to hear feedback. That’s different from my peers; we recognize that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and we need someone pointing out things we don’t know.
Q: Any other advice you would like to give law firms?
A: I’ve learned over the years to not be afraid to be honest, and that doesn’t mean being rude. You have to gauge the approach to your audience, but being honest doesn’t mean you are criticizing. “Equifinality” is the theory you are achieving the same ends through different means. You are communicating the same message through different methods for different people.
There is one simple thing. It goes to really understanding the partnership between in-house and outside counsel. Outside counsel will communicate broadly a list of things in an alert or update, and it goes to the in-house counsel and also the CEO, CFO, etc. at the same time. But a lot of these things are emergent, and it is more than just an FYI. I remember when I was a young GC and I got a call from my president asking about a newsletter from a law firm containing information about some new employment regulation that I knew nothing about. The outside counsel should have given the courtesy to the in-house counsel in advance of a general distribution so if there were any issues, we wouldn’t look unprepared or not knowledgeable. It goes back to making the in-house counsel prepared and more effective and also not embarrassing them. You help take care of my career and I will be very good to you!
Rich Cohen has more than 30 years of legal, business and consulting experience. Prior to joining Corporate Creations, Rich served as a Managing Director of Duff & Phelps and President of RenewData Corp. He has held senior positions with The Garden City Group and LexisNexis, and he has served as General Counsel of Ohio Power and Columbus Southern Power. Rich has been recognized as an AV Preeminent rated attorney every year since 1998. Rich has served on the Corporate Counsel Advisory Board of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel and is Editor in Chief of The Electricity Journal. He is a recipient of the Corporate Legal Times Distinguished Legal Service Award.