Top Tips for Managing External Lawyers

Does the thought of picking up the phone to your external lawyer fill you with dread as a huge bill may follow?

Do you worry that your external lawyers don’t understand enough about your business, but you don’t want to pay them for time spent finding out?

Do you feel your legal budget is unmanageable, with poor visibility on spend and uncertainty about what will be billed and when?

All in-house lawyers have had these feelings at some point, as engaging external lawyers can be very challenging. It’s also common to blame the external lawyers – with complaints like their fees are too high, they don’t understand your business, or their advice is too detailed.

In reality, it’s not so cut and dried. A skilled in-house counsel who knows how to manage their lawyers efficiently will get the best from their external lawyers and in turn deliver an improved service to their internal clients.

So how can I achieve this, you ask? Read on for some Top Tips for managing your external counsel and take back control for yourself.

Engaging new lawyers

When instructing

An example of this might be a dispute with a key customer. You’re keen to resolve this amicably (even at some cost to you) in order to preserve the relationship. If you aren’t clear about this, your litigation lawyer may assume you wish to aggressively pursue the claim.


For example, your lawyer may have costed the project on the assumption you want detailed written advice on a contract. If in fact you are happy to receive advice verbally and need input into only some of the clauses, let them know as this could bring the fee down.

For example, if a lawyer spends twice as long preparing a first draft of the contract, this should be at his risk. He knew the scope initially and costed it wrong. But if – due to your business colleagues or the other side’s lawyers – your lawyer has to spend 10 hours negotiating a contract instead of 1 as estimated, it’s not fair to expect this fee exposure to sit with your lawyer.

During the project


Budget and law firm panel management

Client satisfaction

Suzy Schmitz is an experienced commercial and disputes lawyer at Keystone Law with a strong background in Intellectual Property, Retail and Technology. She also has significant senior in-house experience, having spent the past six months as Acting Regional Legal Director, Northern Europe, for consumer goods manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser. In this role Suzy was responsible for managing the legal budget and the engagement of various external law firms, so understands first-hand the experiences faced by in-house counsel.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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