Thursday, May 31, 2012

Small Law Department Resources

One of the many challenges of being in house is the lack of resources you’re used to having at a law firm.  Having an expert at your fingertips, document banks or even LexisNexis or Westlaw are often out of reach when you join a small law department.  Law departments are often viewed as a cost center by the business.  Even the most accommodating and convincing GC must justify the annual legal budget.  With much of the allocated spend being reserved for potential litigation or other unknown but foreseeable costs, what’s left must be spent wisely.  Dropping a couple of thousand dollars on a research resource that will be used once a quarter isn’t a good ROI.  So then, what does in house counsel do when faced with the need for a resource that isn’t in the budget? Have no fear; there are a ton of free and low cost resources out there. 

First and probably most important is your network.  It’s tempting once you go in house and no longer have the need to develop a book of business to put your head down and just do your job.  But skip those networking events at your own peril – some of the most valuable resources you will find come from your network.  Other in house lawyers who have ‘been there and done that’ may be able to answer your burning question off the top of their heads, and for free!  Cultivate these relationships as they truly are invaluable. 

Mentors also provide great direction.  I’ve written on the topic before, but I can’t overstate the importance of having good mentors to bounce ideas off of.  Or course, this would be for more practical matters than legal opinions – but they can often recommend resources they’ve used that provide a good value.   I know that I rely on my mentors at least once a month, if for no other reason than it’s nice to get reassurance that you’re on the right track.

Professional associations also offer inexpensive CLE’s and resource banks for relatively low annual subscription/membership fees.  One of my favorites is Association of Corporate Counsel.  The online resources are top notch – I can often find templates or other examples of the types of documents I’m looking for as well as training decks for many of the topics I’m interested in.  The CLE offerings are great and range from free to a couple hundred dollars.  The group also helps facilitate your personal network by introducing you to other in house counsel.  I’ve met some of my best friends and most valuable resources through ACC. 

Freebies from law firms looking for your business (or continued business) are also useful, but use these cautiously.  Some law firms will give you quick advice without billing and write it off to client development.  This typically is reserved for answers that can be given within a 5 minute or less phone call.  This also comes with the expectation that should your matter grow or something else come up you will be calling them with the work that pays.  Make sure you clarify whether the call will be billed prior to asking the question.  As tempting as it might be, don’t take advantage of these relationships.  Like everything else in business, you’ll end up paying for it later with higher billables. 
When all else fails, the internet can be extremely useful.  But proceed very carefully.  Remember that anyone can post anything on the internet without actually having a clue as to what they’re writing about.  Only use sources that you trust – established law firm blogs ( for updates on employment and labor law is great),, are some good online resources.  When in doubt, try to get confirmation of the information from a separate source. 

These are just a few of the resources I regularly use, but is clearly not an exhaustive list.  Have something I haven’t mentioned?  Share it in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Will add to the list! RT @AttyJones ALM/ for sure.