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    September 18, 2008  
Please, No Surprises

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You might have guessed it, but our four GCs at Tuesday’s lunch made it unanimous: Kindly step up to the plate with bad news sooner rather than later; and on billings, if you’re not going to hit the target, make it less, not more. Budgets these days, even for the all-important legal departments, are kinda’ sacred.


The railing below might suggest that our GCs are such rock stars that they needed a barrier from their surging fans, but actually we think it’s just the northern Italian décor at our host restaurant, Il Mulino. But the truth is, Blackboard Deputy GC Justin Tan, Corporate Executive Board GC Pamela Auerbach, SunEdison GC Kevin Lapidus, and freshly departed (because they merged with Sirius) XM Radio GC Joe Titlebaum are rock stars.  Joe suggested “regular and upfront” conversations between corporate and outside counsel, and assigning an internal person to track assignments; he said he hired a full-timer to do it, and it was well worth it.


The Corporate Executive Board has 400 of its 2,500 employees in London, and also keeps an office in Australia. Pamela says budget management can be particularly tough on international work. She calls herself “aggressively clear” with outside counsel about her expectations, and has added one firm she’s very familiar with—Kirkland, of which she’s an alumna—to her stable.


Blackboard called Justin on board to lend a hand with the IPO in 2004; he'd worked with General Counsel Matt Small at Testa Hurwitz in Boston before making the move down to DC.  Since Matt is spending a majority of his time now as Chief Business Officer, supervision of the dozen-attorney department has effectively fallen on Justin. Blackboard’s outside counsel for the IPO and continuing M&A work is another familiar Boston firm—Hale & Dorr (now, of course, WilmerHale).


Joe, briefly allowed here to eat, said that for some matters like shareholder litigation, you really need to “buy a Cadillac” and can’t afford to nickel and dime yourself on legal expenses. On the other side of the coin, Kevin suggested that firms would be wise to “charge to the matter” rather than setting a unmovable hourly rate for their attorneys. He sees a big opening in the market for mid-size firms charging reasonable prices for assignments that fall short of bet-the-company importance.


Scoping the schmooze, we ran into Gibson Dunn transaction pro (and former Partner-In-Charge) Stephanie Tsacoumis, who’s represented Pamela’s Corporate Executive Board since its 1999 IPO. She was chatting up fellow Greek Maria Foscarinis, who founded the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty in 1989, inspired to the cause after working a pro bono case at Sullivan & Cromwell. The Center leveraged $1.9 million in legal services last year with the help of several top DC firms, not to mention honorary Chair (and novelist, for the unlettered among us) John Grisham.  


Just to prove we’re cool with the law school set, let it be known that Georgetown Law Center 2L Lily Izadi, right, was on the scene, picking up some intelligence on alleged life after the bar. Pepper Hamilton’s Annette Ahlers was at her side, nodding approvingly when Lily said she’s taking tax next year—Annette has an LLM in the subject from G-town, and, in a sign of the times, tells us her bankruptcy tax work is picking up big time.

John Ford is Bisnow’s Legal Editor. Story ideas to: john@bisnow.com.

PN Hoffman
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