Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Share Best Practices

When Zynga’s Chief Legal Officer Phuong Phillips works with outside counsel, she sometimes has to remind them that less is more when it comes to providing legal advice.

“I’m a three bullet point person and my CEO is a one bullet point person,” she told members of LMA Bay Area at the May 21 Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Summit. “If you send me a 10-page memo I’m going to cry.”


In fact, one time a law firm brought 30 pages of handouts to a meeting with Zynga’s publishing team. Phillips not only provided feedback to the firm that the presentation did not meet expectations, but she also asked the firm to bring a marketing representative to future prep meetings to help make the presentations simpler and more concise.

The anecdote was one of many helpful hints on how law firms can capture – and keep – the attention of in-house counsel during the event moderated by Orrick Chief Client Officer Catherine Zinn and hosted by Morgan Lewis in Palo Alto. Joining Phillips on the panel was Chris Young of Ironclad and Thomas Chow of Pubmatic.

Other key takeaways included:

  1. Establish authentic relationships
  2. Credibility matters. In-house GCs are more likely to reach out to their network for referrals.
  3. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, show don’t tell
  4. For a successful client relationship, ask questions

Establish Authentic Relationships

Panelists said they always appreciate at networking events when lawyers ask questions in order get to know them as people, rather than sales targets. And don’t expect one conversation or meeting to pay off immediately. Building a trusted relationship takes time.

Chow said he once had six years of conversations with an outside lawyer before he finally had a legal matter that fit with the lawyer’s skills. “Too many people give up,” he said.

Good relationships are often forged at dinners and other social gatherings, where people can talk about their hobbies as well as their businesses.

“It’s about being genuinely interested in the communities you serve,” Young said.


Credibility Matters

When they need to find a lawyer with a certain area of expertise, the panelists said they often turn to their networks.

For Phillips, that’s Women’s General Counsel Network. Chow said he reaches out to the Association of Corporate Counsel or networks of Asian American lawyers. Young prefers to consult his network of tech general counsels.

From there, they will vet potential legal partners using Chambers submissions or a google search, which usually returns a link to the attorney’s LinkedIn or firm bio. For Chow, an individual attorney’s reputation is more important than what law firm they are with.

To narrow down prospects, Chow said he will email several candidates to see how they respond. “Are they going to be pragmatic? I don’t like to waste my time,” he said.

Show That You Care About Diversity and Inclusion

The panelists all said they value outside counsel teams who bring diverse backgrounds and opinions to the table.

Instead of sending a glossy brochure that touts your commitment to diversity and inclusion, send a diverse panel of attorneys to pitches. And then give the women and people of color you brought to the pitch meaningful opportunities to work on the matter.

“Don’t talk about it – just be about it,” Young said.


For a Successful Client Relationship, Ask Questions

The panelists said they are grateful when outside counsel take a genuine interest in them and their business. Young used an example from when he was general counsel of GoFundMe and a lawyer he worked with created a fund-raising campaign with the platform just to see how it worked.

“I love that sense of curiosity,” Young said.

Young said he also appreciates when an outside counsel makes him feel like he’s their only client or matter, citing an example of an 11 p.m. email he received from an attorney asking for feedback about an idea. 

Phillips recounted that when she worked as an associate at Wilson Sonsini, she took an interest in the product of one of the firm’s clients, Solar City, that led to Solar City bringing her on board in house to help them go public.

Chow recommended that outside counsel ask him questions to find out the goal of a legal matter rather than making assumptions and lecturing. For example, if it’s an employment matter that has merit, the goal might be to reach a fair settlement so he’s looking for a strategy on how best to accomplish that.

If a legal engagement goes awry, is there anything that a law firm can do to fix it?

The panelists said yes. Since it’s often an issue with an individual, the law firm can bring in a new person. But at that point the stakes are high. “You better give me a superstar,” Phillips said.

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Laura Ernde is a San Francisco-based communications consultant. A former legal affairs journalist and State Bar of California communications director, she helps law firms and legal marketing agencies with content strategy and content creation. Connect with her via LinkedIn and Twitter. Email:


Additional Post-Event Coverage

Local Bay Area member (and writer extraordinaire!) Susan Kostal attended the event and put together two recap articles about the event. You can read them below:

Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Are Deadly Serious About Diversity and Inclusion

Attorney at Work

Each year, general counsel in Silicon Valley speak to the local chapter of the Legal Marketing Association about their likes and dislikes when working with outside counsel. It’s typically a must-attend for local marketers, and usually just as many lawyers show up as well. What’s so refreshing is the GCs are often brutally honest. In past years, this panel has focused on billing practices, project management, communication styles, responsiveness and the like. This year, though, the three in-house lawyers who spoke made it clear that diversity and inclusion is one of the make-or-break issues they face.

Read More


What Silicon Valley GCs Really Want From Their Attorneys


A commitment to diversity and inclusion, a deep understanding of the product, company and risk profile, and an actual human being they can trust. Oh, and no memos...

Read More

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Susan Kostal helps lawyers and law firms with legal marketing and content strategy. A former legal affairs journalist, she crafts collateral, directs content campaigns, advises on and creates web content, and ghostwrites for lawyers. Learn about her firm, Stet, at, and connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Coming Up Next- June LMA Program

The next program in the LMA Bay Area features Susan Kostal and 3 other panelists speaking about creating content that is strategic and emotionally engaging. When it comes to making content decisions, we all acknowledge the vital role of technology in shaping our marketing strategies. But data and SEO strategies can’t work alone for longer term engagement – we have to find a way to also connect emotionally with our audiences to build deeper relationships and loyalty. There is a fluid interplay between data driven strategies to GRAB the attention of your audience coupled with the omni-present emotional intelligence needed to KEEP them engaged. 

Date & Time: Thursday, June 13th from 11:30am - 1:15pm

Location: Bar Association of San Francisco


Register Now

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