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In-House Call

Susan L. Kantrowitz usually needs specialized outside counsel to help her handle the legal work confronting her employer, WGBH Education Foundation in Boston. And for the most part she’s happy with what she finds.

“They’re usually very sophisticated in their assessment of the law and how they treat the clients,” says Kantrowitz, general counsel and vice president of the public television pioneer.

Barbara Rabinovitz of In-House recently spoke with Kantrowitz about her relations with outside counsel.

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In-House. What do you look for when recruiting outside counsel?

Kantrowitz. I look for a firm that has an expertise in a specialty I need: FCC counsel in Washington, D.C.; entertainment counsel in New York; labor counsel in New York and Los Angeles; and general litigation support in Boston. Most of what we do has to do with entertainment, so I look for firms which have a specialty in entertainment, especially around collective bargaining.

In-House. So you use multiple firms. Do you ever call on a local general-practice firm?

Kantrowitz. Boston is a city which doesn’t have as much entertainment as New York or L.A. We have great firms in Boston, but I do need to know what’s going on in the communication/entertainment business, and the hubs for that are in New York and L.A.
Most of the firms we have relationships with we’ve been working with for about 25 years. I have very good, very stable, long-term relationships with outside counsel in Boston, New York, L.A. and Washington.

In-House. What percentage of your legal work is done by outside counsel and what percentage is done in-house?

Kantrowitz. Our objective is to do as much of our work in-house. I think our FCC work is probably the only area we rely more heavily on outside counsel. We try to do as much in-house as possible.

In-House. How are the fees for outside-counsel work calculated? .

Kantrowitz. As a nonprofit, I always ask for a discount, and a lot of them give it to me in supporting a nonprofit. My budget is part of the institutional budget. I’m in an overhead department in the foundation. .

In-House. Do you ever draw any lessons from your outside lawyers?

Kantrowitz. Oh my God, I learn amazing amounts from my outside counsel. I learn substantive areas of the law. I’m always fascinated by the skills they have.

In-House. A brand-new WGBH headquarters building is taking shape in Allston, overlooking the eastbound lane of the Mass Pike. Have you used outside counsel for that project?

Kantrowitz. Yes, it’s been handled by local outside counsel [as part of] a relationship with our chief operating officer and our chief financial officer. The two firms that helped us are Casner & Edwards and Murtha Cullina [both in Boston]. They did all the transactions related to the contractors. They were immensely reliable. … We try to do a lot of things, but construction and building new buildings are not among them.

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