The 2014 NAMWOLF Law Firm Expo on Monday, September 22 will give in-house counsel the opportunity to meet approximately 120 law firms from 38 states in one place. To help both inside and outside counsel maximize their time at the Expo, Newsletter Co-Editor Jamie Rudman spoke with NAMWOLF Law Firm Expo veterans Mel Walker of Wells Fargo and Tom Nathan of Comcast Cable.

Jamie: Why do you attend the Law Firm Expo?

Tom: The Expo is the highlight of the Conference for me. When I am at a NAMWOLF event, my priorities are meeting firms and meeting people. The Law Firm Expo is an excellent opportunity for in-house counsel to meet law firms with a wide variety of practices, experience and geographic diversity in a very convenient way. In just two to two and a half hours, I can meet many firms from across the country.

Mel: The Expo provides an efficient and effective opportunity to interact with NAMWOLF law firms and to learn about them in a way that you cannot do simply by going to their websites. This is a great chance to ask questions, size people up and get information about what these firms really do. I go into the Expo thinking about future legal work opportunities as well as ways to establish and maintain relationships with the NAMWOLF attorneys with whom I develop rapport. It is this process of building a rapport and relationships, along with demonstrated evidence of professional skill and experience, that can ultimately lead to future business opportunities for NAMWOLF law firms.

Jamie: With so many choices, how do you decide which firms to schedule or visit at the Expo?

Tom: I base my decisions about which firms to meet on geography. Our operations are geographically dispersed, so my need for outside counsel can arise almost anywhere in the country. I attend other events and conferences, but the NAMWOLF Law Firm Expo is the largest event that gives me a chance to meet counsel from all over the country.

Mel: The best way for an in-house counsel to maximize his or her time at the Expo is to do your homework up front, as opposed to wandering around from table to table led by who has the best cupcakes or golf gifts. The first time I attended the Expo, I just walked around because I was unfamiliar with most of the law firms and what they had to offer. Since then, I have approached the Expo more strategically, and it makes the event more fruitful for me. The night before the Expo, I take the NAMWOLF law firm directory and identify the firms that practice in my geographic coverage areas that do the types of work that I handle. Then, I prioritize my Expo time with those law firms. I also identify and visit law firms in other geographic or substantive areas if I am aware of a potential need in my company.

Jamie: Do you visit firms that are not on your appointment schedule during the Expo? Ever get results from this?

Tom: Yes and Yes. I don’t schedule that many meetings and I have met firms that we have subsequently used, just by walking around. I think it is important that I meet people before the need arises. Once a lawsuit is served and the time to answer is ticking, it is hard to begin interviewing new firms. Sometimes, I meet firms and lawyers multiple times over several conferences before I get to work with them and the Expo helps build those relationships.

Mel: I typically do not schedule appointments at the Expo. Instead, I identify and visit the firms that cover my geographic and substantive areas and certain other firms that may be helpful to my colleagues. However, if there are one or two specific firms that an in-house counsel primarily wants to see, then appointments may be a good option.

Jamie: What benefits have you and your company achieved from attending the Expo?

Tom: I really do use the Expo – and the whole NAMWOLF Conference – to find new counsel. I have met a lot of good people and law firms that we use today. As the Conference gets bigger, it is harder to connect with particular people or people in specific areas simply by chance. The Expo is convenient because people are arranged in an order that enables me to find them.

Jamie: Does it make sense for companies to send more than one in-house attorney to the Expo?

Mel: Sure! If your law department covers a variety of substantive and geographic areas, the more of your in-house attorneys that attend the Expo, the more of them that will be exposed to quality, diverse law firms that can handle their work.

Jamie: What advice do you have for law firm members attending the Expo?

Tom: Meet people and be patient. I have heard that some firms are disappointed when meetings don’t turn into immediate engagements. But there may be any number of good reasons why that doesn’t happen. As with any other contact, it may take years before a contact blossoms into an engagement. I think the best thing you can do is meet in-house counsel and get them acquainted with your firm before they have a need.

Jamie: Do you ever get lured in by the giveaways that firms offer? Got a favorite?

Tom: The giveaways are not essential, but they do make good conversation starters. I think the best giveaways are the items that people keep on their desk or near the phone that have the firm name on it. As I look around my desk, I have some items from NAMWOLF firms within reach. The point is to get people to stop, have a conversation and remember you later.

Mel: I focus on my law firm visitation plan first, but the law firm promotional items can be intriguing. For me, the best items combine creativity and utility. If a firm has creative promotional offerings, maybe they also can develop a creative litigation strategy!

Jamie: If an in-house counsel is planning to only attend one NAMWOLF Annual Conference, is there value in attending the Law Firm Expo?

Mel: Yes, if you do your homework. If you are strategic in choosing the law firms that you visit, then you can start building relationships with applicable law firms at a distance. Of course, it would be great if you could attend more NAMWOLF conferences where you could continue to build and maintain those relationships in person in subsequent years . . . .

Jamie: Can you give in-house attorneys who have never attended a NAMWOLF Law Firm Expo a reason why they should go this year?

Tom: I have been giving this advice to companies all over the Philadelphia area: The NAMWOLF Law Firm Expo is a great place to meet firms that are very capable of doing your work.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2014 Law Firm Expo on Monday, September 22 from 10:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Tom Nathan is the Head of Litigation for Comcast Cable. He has attended four NAMWOLF Conferences and several NAMWOLF Business Meetings and he is a member of the NAMWOLF Advisory Council.

Mel Walker is a Senior Counsel in the Wells Fargo Law Department, where he supports the Corporate Properties Group in the southeastern U.S. He has attended two NAMWOLF Conferences and co-chaired a NAMWOLF Business Meeting. Mel is also a member of the NAMWOLF Advisory Council.