Attorney at Law Magazine Salt Lake City Publisher John Marciano sat down with Lee Saber to discuss his transition to corporate counsel.
AALM: How did you make your transition to corporate counsel? How do you stay connected to the private practice community?
Saber: I was formerly a partner with Howrey LLP handling complex technology and IP transactions. Cognizant Technology Solutions U.S. Corporation recruited me to manage the company’s IP department. I present at CLEs and other informal gatherings in the legal community.
AALM: What qualities do you look for when choosing outside counsel?
Saber: Cognizant’s in-house legal team is comprised of attorneys who are the best in their respective fields, and who were recruited from top-tier international law firms. As a result, Cognizant attorneys require excellence, creativity and sound business judgment when engaging with outside legal counsel. Our in-house teams are accustomed to premium legal guidance, and, as a company, we require a “value add” element from our outside firms.
AALM: How would you describe your ideal relationship with outside counsel?
Saber: Cognizant works hand-in-hand with outside counsel. We expect to collaborate and directly participate in a process that facilitates the delivery of premium legal guidance in an efficient and expeditious setting.
AALM: What major concerns does your company’s CEO or board raise about outside counsel? How do you address those issues?
Saber: First, the value proposition for the legal services required by Cognizant. Second, managing outside legal spend in a reasonable manner. Cognizant closely monitors the costs and benefits associated with outside legal engagements. Our primary focus is facilitating and catalyzing service delivery for our business units by leveraging the value added expertise of our outside firms. My team cultivates close relationships with a preferred group of outside firms to address these issues, and I participate in weekly meetings with outside counsel to ensure alignment with Cognizant’s core business objectives.
AALM: What challenges do you face when working with outside counsel?
Saber: One of our biggest challenges is the potential turnover among partners and associates knowledgeable about Cognizant. The time it takes a new attorney to familiarize themselves with our business can be lengthy. However, Cognizant maintains a strong network of outside relationships to ensure seamless continuity of our services to our clients.
AALM: What changes do you see in the future in regards to the relationships between the business and legal community?
Saber: There is an inherent tension between the commoditization of legal work and the provision of value-added legal expertise. Going forward, I anticipate that in-house legal departments will expand to enable on-demand, in-house delivery of complex legal guidance.
AALM: In what areas do you believe the legal community has fallen behind the business world?
Saber: Information technology, plain and simple. Clients expect real-time access to their legal deliverables and real-time monitoring of outside legal spend. The law firm market has fallen behind in this capability, which makes it harder to justify cost.
AALM: How would you recommend a law firm maintain a relationship with their business client?
Saber: I was formerly a partner with a top-tier international law firm. During that time, I witnessed a commoditization of legal services. Cultivating and maintaining strong client relationships requires that outside firms provide more than mere commoditized legal services. Sound legal guidance is the basic prerequisite. However, there must be a value added element. Those value added elements can take the form of proposing multiple creative solutions to a complex problem, engaging in collaborative interactions, or working directly with our business teams on strategic engagements.
AALM: Share a unique story with our readers about a positive or negative outside counsel experience.
Saber: Cognizant recently engaged outside international counsel to perform specialized due diligence on a foreign government- owned vendor being evaluated for a strategic engagement. Based on value-added guidance from outside counsel that was provided in less than 48 hours, Cognizant successfully navigated a complex business engagement and achieved a sound business outcome.
AALM: What advice would you give to attorneys wishing to switch to general counsel?
Saber: Watch, read and then, re-watch and re-read the June 12, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Speech by Steve Jobs. After that, read it again. Then, live it.
AALM: What advice would you give to attorneys looking to win your business?
Saber: To quote Steve Jobs, “Don’t settle. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”