Q&A Interview: Communication, Understanding and Cost Effectiveness Best Ways for Law Firms to Impress Us, Says Tiffany GC Harlan

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Leadership, Practical Law, Q&A Interviews, Thomson Reuters

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Leigh M. Harlan, Senior Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel of Tiffany & Co., recently sat down with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law to discuss measuring productivity, what law firms have to do to impress, and how to avoid becoming the “Office of No”.

Practical Law: How is the legal function structured?

Leigh M. Harlan: Our structure is centralized, which helps ensure that our attorneys are aligned with broader strategic and operational objectives and grounded in the company’s corporate culture. Our structure is also quite streamlined, which allows our clients easy access to legal advice and assures consistency in that advice.

PL: How do you measure and improve productivity and success within the law department?

Harlan: We certainly look for, and take advantage of, opportunities to reduce costs, maximize efficiency and enhance our skills and knowledge, with the goal of improving productivity. Ultimately, however, our effectiveness is measured by our clients’ satisfaction and the company’s success in achieving its business objectives.

PL: How does the law department avoid being perceived as the “Office of No” while still ensuring it helps the client avoid liability?

Harlan: An effective in-house attorney must keenly listen to, and collaborate with, clients. It is also critical that he or she facilitates discussion, fosters creative problem-solving and is commercial-minded in rendering advice. In some situations, “no” will be the right answer for the company, but our objective is to work with our clients in such a way that we align in that answer and then proceed collectively to identify and execute on an alternative approach.

Leigh M. Harlan, Tiffany & Co.

Leigh M. Harlan, Tiffany & Co.

PL: How do you align the incentives of external law firms with the objectives of the law department?

Harlan: The most incentivizing outcome for a law firm is to develop a company into a regular client who will also recommend it to others. My willingness to engage a law firm on a subsequent matter or speak highly of their work clearly depends on my satisfaction with their expertise in a given area, and the overall quality and efficiency of their work, factors which align with my department’s objectives in using outside counsel. To that end, I begin every engagement with a detailed discussion about expectations and provide regular feedback so that expectations can be met or, better yet, surpassed.

PL: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Harlan:

  • Communicate well. This means being responsive as well as clear and efficient in providing advice.
  • Give pragmatic advice that displays an understanding of our business.
  • Be cost-effective. [Angel investor and author] Amy Rees Anderson wisely surmised, “Nothing is more expensive than a cheap lawyer.” I do, however, expect law firms to be cost conscious, perform work efficiently and capitalize on opportunities for cost savings.

PL: What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?

Harlan: The best way to gain the trust of your board, CEO and legal team is to ensure that your decisions and actions reflect integrity, respectfulness, an appropriate balance of humility and confidence, a strong understanding of your company’s history, culture and business, and an appreciation of your role as a guardian of your company’s reputation.

You can read the full interview with Ms. Harlan in the November issue of Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business