Harness Dickey CEO Bill Coughlin was recently interviewed by Kelly Caplan of Michigan Lawyers Weekly about his decision to become a lawyer and his journey from outside counsel to in-house counsel and back again. The interview is part of Michigan Lawyer Weekly’s ongoing “A Sidebar with …” series.
Michigan Lawyers Weekly: You began your legal career at Harness Dickey, and were there for 17 years. What led you to go in-house? And what drew you back to the firm where it all started?
Bill Coughlin: I wrote a software program to help clients measure the scope of their patent claims, and I demoed it to Chrysler Corporation, Harness Dickey’s first client. Chrysler’s chief patent counsel was impressed — maybe too impressed — as the recruitment process then began. So, the moral of that story is to be careful what you show a client.
Fast forward 25 years and I was presented a remarkable opportunity to help the firm that gave me my start. I couldn’t pass that up.
You’re the firm’s first CEO. Why did the firm create this new role?
The firm is approaching its 100th year and the executive committee was wisely looking to the future. It’s difficult for busy and successful lawyers to take time away from pressing client matters to create serious strategic plans — and then persistently invest the energy required to implement them well.
While some law firm CEOs come from a purely business background, Harness Dickey is banking on my business world experience and training coming together with decades of leading lawyers to help them achieve more than what either discipline could do alone.
Tell me something your colleagues might not know about you.
I just graduated from Michigan State University’s Organic Farmer Training Program and recently had to learn how to trap beavers, too. As a city kid who bought a 90-acre farm/estate, it’s been a remarkable journey to learn everything I’ve needed to know. I have a new appreciation for the amount of effort it takes to bring flawless, healthy and delicious produce to consumers.