Dan Coll is vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Elevate Services Inc., which provides consulting services to law firms and legal departments involving support services operations, process improvement and technology consulting, law firm procurement and pricing, profitability and project management, lean training and more. Dan brings over 20 years of legal and finance experience to Elevate. Throughout his career, Dan has advised publicly traded technology companies on a host of legal issues, including commercial transactions, litigation, compliance, corporate governance, and most recently, the developing practice of legal operations. Before joining Elevate, Dan was VP and associate general counsel of legal operations at Oracle and has held senior legal roles at NetApp and Jabil. Before going in-house, Dan was a litigator with the firm of Swanson, Martin, & Bell in Chicago, Illinois. He also previously was a senior auditor with Arthur Andersen, LLP and Grant Thornton, LLP. Dan received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Northern Illinois University, his J.D. from Loyola University, Chicago, and an LL.M in international law from Stetson University College of Law.
Stephen Embry (SE): What career path you would have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Dan Coll (DC): I probably would have become a high school teacher. I was the first of eight children in my family to go to graduate from college. My decision to attend college, which wasn’t the path most of my friends followed after high school, was heavily influenced by the teachers I had growing up. I saw doing the same for other young students when I decided to continue my studies at the college level but found that I enjoyed my business courses, and ultimately studied (and for a time practiced) accounting, until I chose the law as a career. I still enjoy the teaching/learning experience and have coached moot court teams at my former law school, Loyola Chicago, and at Stetson College of Law, where I earned my LL.M. in International Studies. I’ve also made an effort to give back to law students by initiating intern programs at each of the companies I’ve practiced in and teaching at mini-course offerings like the Tech Accelerator program run by the University of Colorado Boulder each summer.
SE: Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on your career. Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
DC: I’ve had numerous mentors who influenced my career, so it’s difficult to single any one person out. That said, Connie Brenton, chief of staff of NetApp’s legal department and co-founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), has been enormously influential. I met Connie when she joined NetApp in 2010 to form a legal operations function. She schooled me on the skills needed to succeed in legal ops, and a year later referred me to Oracle’s GC, Dorian Daley, to fill the role of AGC, Legal Operations at Oracle. Connie also pushed me to do more than just my day job by taking an active role in CLOC, which was then a small group of legal ops practitioners from large tech companies. CLOC has now grown to over 1,000 members worldwide, and my involvement in CLOC led me to my current role as GC of Elevate. I consider Connie a great mentor, role model, and friend.
SE: How do you select outside counsel? What can an attorney do to get selected?
DC: First, it goes without saying that you must have substantive knowledge and experience in the areas where I need help. But that’s just table stakes. What sets outside counsel apart for me is their willingness to go beyond just providing legal advice to addressing the business concerns I have with managing costs. The outside lawyers I want to hire appreciate that I have an overall legal budget and that I see adherence to predictable costs as equally important to successful legal outcomes. I’m always impressed by the lawyer who presents a budget for a matter before I ask for it.
SE: What is the biggest difference between being in-house counsel and being in private practice?
DC: Being able to answer a legal question in as few words as possible—and actually giving an answer.
SE: What about the handling of legal matters by outside counsel gives you the most headaches, concern, or dissatisfaction? What are the things outside counsel does that make your job easier?
DC: As I said, not actively managing costs against budget and failing to identify proactively when we will go over the estimate/cap we agreed on is the thing that’s most frustrating. I can’t overstate the need to communicate overages early on—finding out that a budget has been exceeded for the first time by opening a PDF bill in my inbox presents a real problem for me (and most in-house counsel I know). We all know things change as a matter progresses, and we can’t always predict what will happen. That can be managed if I know about it as soon as possible. Sometimes lawyers are reluctant to call with bad news about billing, but I’d much rather know early on than get surprised at the end. Communication is the key.
About the Author
Stephen E. Embry is a member of Frost Brown Todd LLC and is a member of the Editorial Board of Law Practice Today. Contact him on Twitter @stephenembryjd.