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Zurich Lawyer On the Difference Between In-House and Law Firm Life

Aug. 14, 2015, 2:01 PM

What’s the biggest difference between working in-house and at a major law firm?

“When I was in private practice, I did not and could not fathom the variety of issues which I would deal with moving in-house,” said Edward Paulis, Zurich North America vice president and assistant general counsel, in an interview with Bloomberg BNA’s Ryan Tuck.

Paulis, who worked at Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C. in New York City handling commercial litigation and corporate matters before joining Zurich in 2007, said that despite all the work, ranging from commercial, employment to extra contractual litigation, life is simpler on the inside in at least one respect.

“A lawyer with a law firm has multiple clients and, depending on a number of factors, has some choice in accepting work assignments,” he said. “In-house, I have just one client.”

Paulis added: “Although I do not keep time records like my outside counsel colleagues do, I do keep regular office hours and account for my time being on the job. As an outside attorney, my schedule was generally my own.”

Tuck, a Bloomberg BNA Managing Editor, spoke with Paulis as part of an ongoing series Bloomberg BNA is conducting with in-house counsel to provide an inside look into the top decision makers of legal departments. The interview earlier appeared in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Law & Accountability Report .

Below are some other highlights of the interview that illustrate how Paulis approaches his job, his pet peeves regarding outside counsel and how he goes about selecting them.

Paulis:

I don’t appreciate when outside counsel’s aggregate billing is high relative to the exposure that the company faces. My job, after all, is in part to protect and preserve the assets of the company. I also take issue with outside counsel not keeping me adequately informed of the progress of a matter. I internally report matters and frequently field questions pertaining to matters. If I don’t know what is going on, that’s a problem to me.

Over the past year or two, I have also seen firms return to a habit of periodic rate increases after a hiatus during the financial crisis. The requests are curious in that they are not tied to an increased delivery of value, and seem to exceed inflation and standard measures of expense adjustments.

I am looking for law firms who know the law, know the business, are able to balance the frequency of updates between too many and too few, and who are not overly reliant on in-house counsel to do the work for them.

Our Corporate Law Department is data driven and has formalized a quantitative method of evaluating outside counsel.

Time management is a crucial skill, and I keep lists of action items and priorities. As I switch focus during the day from one task to the other, the lists allow me to keep track of those items I do not want to lose sight of. And it is very rewarding to cross a task off my list. I also develop checklists for tasks, often administrative, I expect to repeat from time to time, such as intake of a new matter or preparing reports for management. This allows for timely and consistent deliverables that improve over time as lessons learned are incorporated into the checklists.

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