Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Litigation (PLJ) recently spoke to Erin Ziaja, Associate General Counsel and Director of Litigation at insurance company NFP Corp., about what causes her to go to outside counsel and what they can do to impress her.
PLJ: What is keeping your company’s litigation attorneys the busiest at the moment?
Erin Ziaja: Since the courts resumed regular operations in 2021, there has been a great amount of case management activity on existing matters that had largely been on hold.
Additionally, despite technology assistance for functions such as implementing legal holds and invoice processing, the administrative tasks associated with managing litigation are incredibly time-consuming.
PLJ: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way your department operates?
Erin Ziaja: As a global company, NFP’s legal department was used to providing remote assistance. Now, it just happens to be from our kitchen tables. We formalized weekly team meetings to check in on each other and our work progress. Connecting, even if only through Zoom, provided insight into each other’s personal lives, such as by allowing people to meet each other’s kids and pets, and made for a more cohesive team. Seeing the success of working from home, NFP will continue utilizing a hybrid work model.
Read the full interview in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Practical Law The Journal: Litigation (PLJ)
PLJ: What types of issues will cause you to turn to outside counsel?
Erin Ziaja: Increasingly, we utilize regional counsel to proactively assess the impact that state law changes may have on the organization. Additionally, we are mindful of the implications for attorney-client privilege in highly sensitive matters and will engage outside counsel to oversee the investigatory process.
PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?
Erin Ziaja: A law firm should:
- Quickly establish subject matter expertise and a well-articulated litigation strategy.
- Use NFP’s time and money wisely.
- Staff our cases with a diverse team of smart attorneys.
PLJ: What is the best career advice you ever received?
Erin Ziaja: Take your job seriously, but do not take yourself too seriously. In litigation, clients are often stressed, angry, or worried. Your job is to get them through that tough time to the best possible outcome. If you can do that with humor and humility, you will have better interactions and quicker resolutions.
PLJ: What is one mistake you made early on in your legal career and what did you learn from it?
Erin Ziaja: I never networked. I thought it was enough to keep my head down and produce good work, but that is not the case. You must put yourself out there. That was hard for an introvert like me until I realized I had been conflating networking with going to large, formal networking events. Now, I focus on small group activities I enjoy, like lunch with colleagues and volunteering. I have even networked over goat yoga.
PLJ: What advice would you give to prospective in-house litigation counsel?
Erin Ziaja: Know that as in-house counsel, you will acquire new skills in areas such as finance or business management, but your litigation skills will deteriorate. It is unlikely that there will be any more adrenaline-pumping moments, like running into court for a temporary restraining order, or war stories about how you got the admission on cross-examination. For most of us who transition to in-house, that chapter is closed, which can be hard for a litigator to accept.
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