Orienting Associates for New Client Assignments (part 1 of 2)

July 8, 2013

summer associatesIt is no longer a secret that clients are becoming more demanding about the services they receive from their outside law firms and they have made it clear that they won’t tolerate working with attorneys who don’t know their business and aren’t able to zero in quickly on the type of advice that the client needs.  I recently was asked to put together a short list of suggestions for new in-house attorneys on how they could get “up to speed” quickly when beginning their careers and it occurred to me that a number of the ideas might also apply to directions that can be given to law firm associates assigned to a new client.  Here are a few of them:

1. Ask for an executive summary of the client’s business plan and an “org chart”. 

The associate should get a copy of any “official” executive summary of the client’s business plan that succinctly lays out what the client does and what its goals and objectives are for the future.  He or she should also ask for a comprehensive organizational chart to begin to understand how the client is set up, who reports to whom, how information flows and who is responsible for legal and compliance issues.

2. Research each of the client’s key industries and markets.

Before the associate starts plowing through the client’s contracts and policies have him or her go out and find reliable, timely and unbiased information on each of the industries and markets in which the client is currently operating.  While they are doing this research they should also try and get up to speed on competitive and regulatory conditions in industries and markets that are likely candidates for client expansion over the next few years.

3. Read the client’s 10-K, proxy statement and annual shareholders’ reports word-for-word.

Once the associate has researched the client’s key industries and markets using independent sources it’s time to take a close look at how the client sees itself and presents itself in disclosures to shareholders and the general investment community.  Assuming the client is subject to the reporting requirements of the federal Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, the associate should read the client’s 10-K, proxy statement and annual shareholders’ reports word-for-word.  If the client is privately-held get a copy of the business plan and/or offering documents used to raise capital from outside investors or land a credit facility from a bank or other financial institution.

“In the second half of this series we’ll focus on three additional steps new in-house attorneys should consider to quickly get up to speed.”