Posted by: johnocunningham | June 20, 2013

Chief Legal Officers Tell Outside Counsel What They Want… and Don’t

In case you missed out on the fast-paced, rapid fire answers that a panel of all-star General Counsel provided to legal marketing questions at the LSSO RainDance conference on June 5, here is a round-up of the interesting results.

Four out of four, or 100 percent of General Counsel (including Lon Povich of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Hollie Lussier of AAA New England, Danette Wineberg, formerly of Timberland, and David Mackey, formerly of Massport) have this to say:

1. They generally stop working with outside lawyers if product or attitude is bad rather than counsel them thru their service issues.

2. Law firm brochures offer little or no value.

3. The GCs always or most often use an engagement letter giving instructions to outside counsel.

4. They have audited law firm invoices for compliance with engagement letters.

5. They prefer to like someone they hire as a lawyer, (and two of four must like them to hire them).

6. They discount or disregard super lawyer status as an element of hiring.

7. They would be receptive to legal providers asking how to improve service.

8. They prefer to have an in-person interview over a written form for service surveys.

9. They would accept an introduction to another lawyer from a person who is already a trusted adviser.

10. They are interested in knowing how technology is used by a law firm to improve service, quality and speed.

11. They do not see low law firm turnover as a selling point.

12. They give plus points for consideration of alternative fee arrangements, and minus points for refusal to consider alternative fees.

13. They believe it is best to walk the walk rather than talk the talk when it comes to diversity.

14. They look at outside counsel’s emotional IQ as much as their legal IQ.

15. They will listen to a pitch on how to make money or save money with legal innovations or use the law to their advantage, and might hire the lawyer making the pitch.

16. They want law firms to tell them ASAP about any potentially embarrassing news about the firm (partner misconduct, over-billing, social media catastrophes) so they can do damage control internally (worst case I don’t care; best case – I do care and you saved the day).

17.  They want to see industry related experiences on lawyer bios… and don’t.

18. They think that partners generally deliver more “value” than associates for dollars spent.

Three out of four also say:

1. They have instructed law firms that they will not pay for 1st yr time on some matters.

2. They will hire a friend over a stranger if all other qualifications are equal.

3. That billable hours do not create perverse incentives.

4. That the billable hour model will not go away.

5. They have been surveyed by one or more law firm providers asking how they could improve service.

6. Outside counsel do not generally understand the importance of industry context to legal strategy and decision-making.

7. They have fired outside counsel or stopped working with them after finding they ignored billing instructions in engagement letters.

8. They would consider process improvement or project management training in a law firm to be a plus in a sales pitch (provided it was relevant to a given matter and there was evidence of actual improved efficiency in the firm).

9. That litigation has taken up more of their time than anything else in recent months.

Two out of four GCs say that:

1. The work of 1st year associates is generally not worth paying for.

2. They regularly review certain law firm blogs.

3. They would like to know if a firm has systemic associate training and what it consists of.

4. They would like to see more written about charitable service work on lawyer bios.

5. They would like to see personal interests on a lawyer bio if they match their own, and will not penalize the sharing of personal interests if they do not match with their own.

6. RFPs and sales pitches are often missing some connection of the pitch to the industry or individual business.

7. They are wowed by service that comes in “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

8. They want a sales pitch or RFP to tell them : “here is HOW we are going to win or achieve a result.”

9. Sales pitches or RFPs that immediately turned them off were suffering from “a tone of arrogance” or “excessive preening” about the lawyers or the firm.

Comments of interest by individual lawyer GCs also included these:

1. “My business operates on competitive margins… so 50k in revenue on a given item might be necessary to pay for a thousand to a few thousand dollars in legal fees.”

2. One GC suggested that she would like to have more comprehensive periodic updates on all matters being handled by a firm rather than having to call and get them, and others gave a nod to that observation.

3. At least one former GC that worked for a quasi-public entity made it clear that diversity definitely counts in outside counsel hiring.

4. At least one GC essentially said, “Don’t come to me with a pitch team that has just one woman associate on it as window dressing.”

5. A male partner who was rude or condescending to lower ranked members of one GC’s team created a memorably negative impression.

Other points of agreement for all GCs included these:

1. All agreed that internally trust is gained with business clients by just spending time listening to their concerns (so maybe outside lawyers should do the same).

2. All were generally receptive, to one degree or another, to the idea of a brief email invitation to meet for coffee and just ask about their business and get acquainted… a hard sell or too much overkill would not work though.

3. When asked to pick two items they need the most help with, all included litigation.

4. All said that a commitment to women and minority hiring and advancement is a plus to some degree, but that they look at the quality of the lawyers in a firm first and foremost.



  1. Very good recap, John. Thank you for writing this list. I hope lawyers and marketers read this from top to bottom.

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