Attorney at Law Magazine Salt Lake City Publisher John Marciano sat down with Sarah Starkey to discuss her career and advice she would give to attorneys looking to get into her field.
Q: How do you stay connected to the private practice community?
Starkey: As general counsel for Larry H. Miller Dealerships, I stay engaged with those in private practice through personal relationships and by being active in the Utah State Bar. I chair the community outreach committee on the Women Lawyers of Utah board, and in that role I am continuously involved in various volunteer projects which allow me to work with attorneys in private practice, while we assist those in need in our community.
Q: What qualities do you look for when choosing outside counsel for litigation or transactional needs?
Starkey: The answer to this question depends entirely on the nature of the litigation or the transaction. Of course, core competency in the area of law at issue is always the primary factor, but secondary to that is what type of attorney the matter requires. Some litigation requires a more aggressive litigator and some a more reserved approach. Similarly, working on a transaction may require different temperaments and negotiation tactics depending on who is on the other side of the transaction. My go-to outside counsel can seamlessly morph their style depending on the needs of the matter.
Q: How would you describe your ideal relationship with outside counsel?
Starkey: Connected. Being available and having a quick response and follow-up time are critical in my decision to continue using any particular attorney or firm. Business decisions may need to stop while attorneys advise on issues. I value a quick follow- up response time, even if it is an email response simply stating, “on it,” so I know my question or issue is being addressed.
Q: What challenges do you face when working with outside counsel?
Starkey: One major challenge I face is that our initial internal strategies or analyses are sometimes accepted by outside counsel as correct. I want outside counsel to bring ideas and strategies to the table, not just agree with what I have already presented. In the end, I may decide I prefer our initial strategy, but I want further analysis and strategy from an outside perspective to ensure we have truly explored all of the options available.
Q: What advice would you give to attorneys wishing to switch to general counsel?
Starkey: Disavow yourself of the notion that the hours will be regular and the job less stressful than private practice. To the private lawyers, you are the client, but as in-house counsel, you have many clients – your business operators, each of whom will demand your time and efforts in the same way firm clients do.
Q: How would you recommend a law firm maintain a relationship with their business clients?
Starkey: Stay connected even when there are not pending matters. Develop interpersonal relationships with the in-house counsel you work with so you have a reason to stay connected other than work. Don’t simply send an email when you see a new lawsuit hit the Courthouse News Report or sign the holiday greeting card and think you’re staying connected. Additionally, if you have been doing business with a company for years but your firm has new or innovative solutions to handling matters or creative billing solutions, bring it to the table so we are aware of new ways law firms may be conducting business. Make your current clients as aware of your initiatives, community work and innovative solutions as you do prospective clients.
Q: Share a unique story with our readers about a positive or negative outside counsel experience.
Starkey: I began using one outside counsel because she began attending industry specific conferences to become an expert in an area she wished to garner business from our company in; it worked. I know she is getting up-to-date information on the niche area of law she intentionally educated herself in to win the business. Her firm made the financial investment to begin sending her to the conferences, and it took a few, but the investment has paid off.
Q: What advice would you give to attorneys looking to win your business?
Starkey: Be patient, be present and be the best in your area. Relationships between Larry H. Miller Dealerships and the firms who represent us are often long established. There may be a firm that won our business in a particular area years ago and absent a major misstep or significant increase in need, that firm or attorney will remain the holder of that business. That said, things change, relationships change, needs change. It is helpful for attorneys seeking to win our business to demonstrate to us, and others in the community with whom we may be communicating, that they are experts in the area where we need help.
Sometimes, relationships can start with some small, obscure projects; but doing a great job and demonstrating passion, interest, skill and responsiveness can help the attorney obtain more substantial projects and eventually develop a strong long-term relationship. Also, I am inclined to send business to the attorney whose practice and successes I have heard about through personal interactions. Finally, working for Larry H. Miller Dealerships, which is dedicated to giving back in each of the communities in which we do business, and also based on my personal interests, I strongly consider whether attorneys are active in the community and, in the bar.