This week, in asking a number of in-house lawyers to share their thoughts on the challenges facing law departments, to coincide with the launch of our specialist in-house website a number of significant issues emerged regarding client/law firm relationships.
Most of them centred around trust: the need to build strong collaborative relationships with external counsel, the need to avoid conflicts of interest and the irritation of having external lawyers bypass the internal legal department and going straight to the business.
Trust has always been the key to a successful law firm/client relationship.
But following the global financial crisis, with in-house lawyers now believed to have the upper hand in their relationships with law firms - for the first time, in a long time - the issue of trust is becoming more pronounced.
True trust requires that those in a relationship, be it professional or personal, can rely on the other, that they have confidence in each others abilities, alongside integrity and certainty in the manner in which they act.
In a client/lawyer relationship trust goes one step further. Not only does a client place trust in their lawyer to achieve a certain task, but they may also look to their lawyer to be the trusted advisor - to provide their expertise, their care and their integrity well beyond the boundaries of a single matter.
According to Charles H. Green, co-author of The Trusted Advisor who shares his experiences with Lawyers Weekly on page 20, being a trusted advisor means - among other things - that clients will naturally come to you for advice, respect and accept your recommendations, continuously bring you more complicated and strategic issues, pay bills without question, refer others to you and possibly call on you first to deal with a business issue.
For an ambitious lawyer, getting to such a position sounds ideal. But becoming a trusted advisor will not come naturally to all lawyers. This may be especially true for younger lawyers who may be accustomed with simply working from one transaction to the next and, particularly before the GFC, having enough work on that they have never really had to delve deep into client relationships.
With a little bit of investment and determination, the skills that make a trusted advisor can be learnt. If the opinions of in-house counsel count - including those expressed in this week's cover story and on the Lawyers Inhouse site - then it may just be the investment in time and effort that can truly raise a legal career.