Heart, Horsepower, Humility and Hustle

McGuireWoods’ Jon Harmon and Capital One’s Matt Cooper discuss law firm-GC collaboration

October 25, 2021

McGuireWoods chairman Jonathan Harmon and Capital One general counsel Matt Cooper discussed leadership qualities and the attributes companies look for in their outside law firms in Reuters’ Legal Leaders virtual masterclass session, “Collaboration at the Top — Law Firm Leadership & the GC,” held Oct. 19, 2021.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Harmon and Cooper shared perspectives on what motivates a company’s choice of outside counsel, how firms can become more attractive to general counsel and how the two can better understand each other’s mission and values.

“I see outside lawyers as co-counsel of mine, not as a vendor of mine, and we want to make sure we’re in the trenches with people who share our values,” Cooper said.

Harmon and Cooper agreed that humility is an important but often overlooked quality of being an effective and inclusive leader in a law firm or corporate legal department.

“Part of being an inclusive leader is being humble,” Harmon said. “If you’re just trying to defend what’s been done before, you’re not going to listen and want to get the input and include everybody’s thoughts, whether you agree with them or not.”

Cooper identified humility as one of the “four H’s” he looks for in hiring outside counsel, along with heart, horsepower and hustle. For Cooper, humility means constantly seeking the best solution “versus just trying to defend the first answer they came up with.” He also looks for lawyers who bring an “ownership mentality” to their work.

“I listen to people’s stories and I listen to how often they say ‘we’ versus ‘they,’ ” Cooper said. “The more often they say ‘we,’ the more likely I think they ought to have an ownership mentality, which to me is just pretending like you own the company. And that brings the passion that I need and the problem-solving that I need.”