Is “Prior Industry Experience” (PIE) Important When Choosing an In-house Lawyer?

Benefits of PIE

While PIE may conjure up images of scrumptious fillings, we’re referring  to “Prior Industry Experience” and whether it is essential to your choice of attorney hire.

After all, an attorney with PIE will already know the industry jargon and the “commercial norms” of your particular business segment.

But what if your favorite lawyer doesn’t have PIE? Do you need to find another lawyer?

Or what if you’re on the cutting edge of your industry? Are you doomed because no lawyer could possibly have real PIE?

PIE and Your Business Needs

Here’s some food for thought when reconciling PIE and the best hire for your business needs:

Is PIE really necessary?

Generally, if you’ve done a good job selecting a lawyer with the right level of legal (as opposed to industry) experience, they’ll be able to analogize their legal knowledge to meet your needs.

Let’s start with the basics – what are your hiring prerequisites? Your best hiring choice likely:

  1. has legal expertise in the right substantive area(s);
  2. is a good personality fit with you and your team’s culture;
  3. is responsive; and
  4. aligns with your business approach and risk tolerance.

So while PIE is always a plus, it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite.

Do you have PIE to share? 

Your business is filled with people who know the nuances that make your company special and who’d likely be willing to share their views with an enthusiastic and interested lawyer.

You can also hedge your bets by investing in your law firm relationship. Since law firms work with many clients in the same industry, they may be more likely to see new trends emerging and can help your lawyer get up to speed quickly.

Maybe no PIE is a good thing.

Sometimes a lack of PIE can be advantageous. An attorney without PIE may have a fresh perspective that tests your team’s existing assumptions. Some assumptions will be validated, others not, which forces you to find new answers to old problems and continue innovating. If you’re already on the cutting edge of your industry, this will be a familiar place.

Thus, while it may be tempting to fixate on PIE when evaluating a potential hire, there are other equally important factors to consider (like your business’ needs, how much experience they have, and timing issues) which may allow you to view your hiring needs more creatively and open up more options. So don’t just judge a book by its cover. Or a PIE by its crust.

Next Up

Stay tuned for next month’s topic on best practices for working with your lawyer.

In our last post we talked about the right time to hire in-house counsel. This month we tackle a potentially sweet or savory question: is choosing the right lawyer as easy as “PIE”?