The Corner Office: An Interview With Michael Reiger of Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Michael Reiger
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Attorney at Law Magazine Nashville Publisher Amy Dreiling sat down with Michael Reiger to discuss his transtion into corporate counsel.

AALM: How did you make your transition to corporate counsel?

Reiger: The year I was up for partner at my law firm, a health system client I had assisted in a complex acquisition asked me to consider joining them as their general counsel. I had been assured I would make partner; but the idea of helping manage and implement that complex transaction was so appealing that I said yes to the health system and left the firm. That was more than 20 years ago and I’ve never regretted that decision.

AALM: What qualities do you look for when choosing outside counsel for litigation needs?

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Reiger: First and foremost, I consider depth and breadth of the lead lawyer’s relevant experience in the subject matter area. Other considerations are bench strength, willingness to prepare a detailed budget, and openness to using non-traditional solutions to manage cost (such as outsourcing the legwork of discovery or due diligence to a temporary staffing firm.)

AALM: How would you describe your ideal relationship with outside counsel?

Reiger: The firm has excellent lawyers with unquestioned expertise who are readily available to deliver the required representation on time and at or under budget, who anticipate what I need before I ask for it, and with whom I enjoy working. That’s easy, right?

AALM: What major concerns does your company’s CEO or board raise about outside counsel? How do you address those issues?

Reiger: Ultimately my CEO and my board want the same things I do – for our organization to receive high quality, creative legal representation on terms that are cost-effective. Our board does not get involved in counsel selection; however, on material matters, we provide summary information to the board about our selected counsel. And, of course, we also bring counsel to board committee meetings for those matters.

AALM: What challenges do you face when working with outside counsel?

Reiger: Timing is often a challenge. I don’t control when issues arrive in my office, and some business deadlines simply aren’t negotiable. If the firm can’t provide assistance in the required time, ultimately that may compromise our organizational interests – not to mention that it will reflect badly on me with my CEO and senior management colleagues.

AALM: What changes do you see in the future in regards to the relationships between the business and legal community?

Reiger: Law firms will continue to be pressured to reduce their overhead, increase their efficiency and reach, and find ways to pass those savings along to their clients whenever possible. So firms should expect continued cost sensitivity from the business community.

AALM: In what areas, do you believe the legal community has fallen behind the business world?

Reiger: Talent management and succession planning. Businesses today spend lots of time identifying high potential staff and then intentionally designing career development paths for those folks. I think many law firms still let professional development “happen,” based on individual initiative or sometimes by chance, instead of more actively directing it.

AALM: How has technology changed your business and your legal needs? Reiger: Email and instant messaging technologies have increased our internal business partners’ expectations about our availability and our turnaround time. They don’t hesitate to send a text or IM when we don’t answer the phone; and they often need advice and answers right away. Multitasking has become an ever-present component of the in-house counsel’s professional life.

AALM: How would you recommend a law firm maintain a relationship with their business client?

Reiger: Deliver great work product on time, proactively help your client digest it, find ways to help your client look good and – most importantly – ask your client “did this meet your expectations?”

AALM: Share a unique story with our readers about an outside counsel experience.

Reiger: In a prior job, we issued a request for proposals to a number of firms when a significant litigation matter emerged. We selected a handful of finalists, but when we began meetings with the finalists it became clear that one firm actually had no one who had handled a case on the same subject matter. They hadn’t overtly misrepresented anything in their RFP response; but still, that disqualified them. It would have been much better for the firm to have called me and explained why they weren’t going to respond to the RFP; I would have understood and appreciated that they weren’t wasting our time.

AALM: What advice would you give to attorneys wishing to switch to general counsel?

Reiger: I’ve relished the opportunity to get regularly involved in the daily operations of the business, and I have been intellectually stimulated (some days over-stimulated!) by the variety and unpredictability of the issues that land in my office. If that appeals to you, then a general counsel role may suit you well. But if what you aspire to professionally is becoming very, very proficient in one particular area of practice, and doing that to the best of your ability, then private practice may be better.

AALM: What advice would you give to attorneys looking to win your business?

Reiger: Wining and dining are time honored means of business development; but, honestly, I almost never can make the time for that. A new firm is much more likely to get a meeting with me by asking for an appointment that’s not built around a meal, and by focusing your pitch to showcase your firm’s specific expertise and how you believe it can help my organization. Using our time effectively from the get-go will help get my attention.

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