From CPR’s International Conference Last Month: How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel

By Mylene Chan

During the 2021 CPR International Conference, held online Oct. 6-7, CPR’s Young Leaders in Alternative Dispute Resolution Steering Committee presented “How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel.”  

The panel was moderated by Y-ADR’s Steering Committee member Elizabeth Chan, an associate at Three Crowns in London, and included Daniel Huth, Legal Counsel of Global Litigation Europe & MENA for Shell in London; Hemma Lomax, Senior Corporate Counsel, Snap Inc., in Santa Monica, Calif.; Brittany Mouzourakis, Counsel-Litigation at Detroit’s General Motors Co., and Megan Westerberg, Assistant General Counsel, Eisai U.S., Woodcliff Lake, N.J. (Links to the participants can be found on CPR’s website at https://bit.ly/3qlhryI.)

The panel’s focus was on providing advice for young practitioners on developing business relationships and working with in-house counsel. Young practitioners are often told to “think commercially” and to draft advice that reflects commercial acumen. As young practitioners gain more experience, they are expected to manage client relationships and case matters efficiently and within budget.  This panel discussed how young practitioners could gain visibility with the client, how they could understand their client’s commercial objectives, and how they could win clients’ trust and confidence.

The panel opened with a discussion on effective pitching to the client. One panelist advised that young practitioners at the pitch table should project confidence, passion, and knowledge of the subject. Even if a rainmaker is present, junior practitioners should not think of themselves as window dressing because the in-house counsel listening to the pitch wants to hear from the junior practitioners as well for other perspectives. 

Another panelist explained that the presence of junior practitioners at the pitch table underscores the law firm’s commitment to workforce diversity, which is an important criterion for many in-house counsel in selecting outside lawyers.

To raise visibility, the panelists encouraged young practitioners to find a few moments around the pitch to greet the potential clients, build rapport and to get to know the client. Young practitioners should take the initiative to interact with in-house counsel directly to create face-time opportunities, such as offering to buy in-house counsel a coffee to network.

The panelists also urged young practitioners to publish; the publication does not have to be in a formal journal but could be a blog. Many young practitioners also gain visibility through re-posting on LinkedIn and piggybacking on others’ posts. Newcomers to ADR practice should start networking early on, and one easy method is through joining relevant online communities.

In addition to finessing interpersonal skills, young practitioners also must learn how companies approach risks, including the practices that they put in place to avoid, mitigate, and remediate risk. 

The panelists elaborated that if young practitioners are cognizant of the principles of risk control, they will have a holistic view and better understanding of the company, putting those practitioners  in an excellent position to help companies resolve conflicts–which will inevitably happen–and to move past impasses.  

The panelists cautioned that in-house lawyers and company executives do not think alike, contrary to what many young practitioners appear to believe. For example, a vice president may or may not approach risk and compliance the same way as a manager.

Many young attorneys appear to harbor the erroneous assumption that companies have properly trained their staff and have the appropriate monitoring programs in place when, in fact, in-house counsel may expect external lawyers to guide companies in risk management through baby steps. 

Young practitioners should be mindful of the collaboration dynamics between inside and outside counsel so that they can contribute accordingly. When an arbitration or legal proceeding launches, the initial step is for the internal and external counsel to determine the appropriate questions to ask, the respective roles, and the documents to be collected in order to develop a case strategy.

The next step is to consider the staffing of the team, and the rule, the panel members agreed, is the broader the better. The team should ascertain the length, cost, and insurance coverage, and of course, they must discuss the assessment of the case, including the strengths and weaknesses of each claim. The panelists agreed that there should be full collaboration all the way through the matter between inside and outside counsel. 

For enhanced communication with outside counsel, young practitioners should understand that in-house counsel hire outside lawyers for their energy, expertise, and resources to facilitate decision making, so outside counsel must learn to synthesize complicated ideas and present information succinctly.

Since inside counsel may receive hundreds of emails per day, the communication must be concise and easy to digest. In such communications, young practitioners should lay out options, make a recommendation, and explain the relevant reasoning.  In-house counsel often want bullet points that they can easily parse through, not legal briefs, so that they can interface with business colleagues seamlessly. Understanding the life cycle of decision-making at companies and partnering with the in-house counsel is also critical for aspiring young practitioners.

The panelists concluded by giving their final advice for young practitioners: (1) be nosy and greedy, be a creator not just a consumer; (2) just jump in, be genuine and sincere; (3) take the initiative to be heard; and (4) distinguish oneself from the team, ask the right questions, help clients avoid surprises, and dare to challenge.

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A video of “How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel” from the 2021 CPR International Conference has been posted on CPR’s website at https://bit.ly/3qlhryI.

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The author, an LLM candidate at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, in Malibu, Calif., is a 2021 CPR Intern.

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CPR’s International Conference: European Views on the Resolution of Complex Technology Disputes

By Tamia Sutherland

During the Oct. 6-7 CPR International Conference–the first the New York-based conflict resolution think tank and publisher of the CPR Speaks blog has held combining the work of its international advisory boards–CPR’s European Advisory Board presented a virtual panel centered around resolving complex technology disputes.

The panel discussed highly technical blockchain, patent, and intellectual property disputes. Mark McNeill, a New York and London partner in Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, moderated the panel that included:

  • Luke Sobota, a founding partner and Washington, D.C., managing partner at Three Crowns,
  • Edith Jamet, general counsel at SoftAtHome, a Colombes, France, software company, and
  • Mark Beckett, chief information officer at ArbiLex, an arbitration analytics and funding consulting firm based in Allston, Mass.

After introductions, Moderator McNeill posed a question about the resolution of blockchain disputes. Panelist Luke Sobota explained that blockchain operates as a fixed ledger stored internationally on computers world-wide, making the recorded data hack-proof as “the block exists everywhere at once, and nowhere in particular.” Though the blockchain is secure, it cannot anticipate every mistake or account for human error.

To illustrate what types of disputes may arise as a result of blockchain use, Sobota provided the following example: Blockchain technology can be used in commercial transactions by including a QR code with delivered goods that automatically transfers the payment from the buyer’s cryptocurrency account to the seller’s account, and records the transaction on a block when scanned by the recipient, also known as an oracle.

Sobota defined an oracle as “a real-world objective piece of data that the blockchain software, itself, can retrieve and verify.” This process does not require third-party involvement, and is “both the promise and limitation” of the technology, he said.

The oracle, however, can fall short. Disputes can arise when a recipient of goods fraudulently refuses to scan the QR code; the code has a bug that results in an excessive transfer of money; or the goods are partially damaged as there is no code for partial payment or refunds.

Due to blockchain’s decentralized nature, domestic courts do not have jurisdiction to resolve these transnational disputes, and sometimes, the parties are anonymous. Sobota explained that the two forms of arbitration best suited to resolve these unique disputes are (1) on-block arbitrations and (2) traditional commercial arbitrations.

On-block arbitrations are administered through various platforms and are currently “quite minimalist and only suitable to very simple transactions,” according to Sobota. In this case, parties agree that anonymous “jurors” will resolve the dispute, and the discrepancy is remedied automatically on the blockchain by issuing a new block.

For example, an on-block arbitration can immediately provide a refund for partially damaged goods. Panelist Mark Beckett mentioned Kleros, which is an example of an arbitration platform that relies on smart contracts and anonymized jurors to resolve disputes.

While this appears to be an easy and effective solution, questions about a lack of juror guidance, financial incentives, outside pressures, and concerns regarding juror consistency are critiques of the decentralized justice method.

Moderator McNeill then asked panelist Edith Jamet about the types of disputes she sees and how she prefers to resolve the disputes in her in-house role at a software company. She said she typically deals with patent issues. She said confidentiality is essential, and thus, mediation is best to find resolutions, and arbitrations are second best when the parties cannot come to a decision. She conceded, however, that sometimes court is mandatory and can be more secure.

Jamet discussed a mediation with the French tax administration where she had to demonstrate that her company’s technology was innovative and therefore eligible for a tax credit. Emphasizing Luke Sobota’s earlier point about finding sufficiently knowledgeable neutrals, Jamet said that she had to make an analogy to train tracks to illustrate her company’s technological software advancements because it was complex and she wanted the mediator to understand her arguments.

In response to an inquiry about the arbitration’s suitability for IP disputes, Mark Beckett raised skepticism about the number of neutrals who have technical knowledge. He noted that, in court, at least there is a right to appeal. Luke Sobota noted again that suitability depends on the neutrals chosen. In the case of typical IP contractual disputes, however, no special knowledge is necessary, said Sobota.  

Moderator McNeill asked Mark Beckett about ArbiLex, its mission, and what it can do. Beckett replied that ArbiLex is a legal technology startup that uses artificial intelligence and predictive analytics in international arbitration. The company provides practitioners and institutions with data to determine whether they should litigate or arbitrate a case. Ethics guidance states that lawyers generally cannot give a percentage chance of prevailing in a dispute due to predictive limitations. But ArbiLex is providing data for parties to assess the chances of prevailing in disputes.

Beckett explained that ArbiLex’s system can run combinations of different tribunals to provide outcome prediction analysis, provide information on who appointed certain arbitrators, predict case outcomes, relate outcomes to whom a particular arbitrator is sitting with, and provide data on how counsel has performed against each other. The information and graphics provided by ArbiLex, said Beckett, could cut down on the amount of research practitioners need to make tough decisions regarding dispute resolution of complex issues, where various interests may be pulling the practitioner in different directions.

Throughout the conversation, the neutrals that participate in CPR’s Technology Advisory Committee were mentioned as resources for finding technologically knowledgeable neutrals when these complex technology disputes arise.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021 Fall Intern.

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