Posted by: johnocunningham | June 30, 2014

Chief Legal Officers Talk About Their Hot Button Issues

At the LSSO RainDance conference on June 5, a panel of all-star legal leaders provided answers to numerous rapid-fire questions about legal sales and service.

The panel included: Thomas Sabatino, V.P., General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Walgreen Company; Jason Brown, V.P., General Counsel and Secretary for Dyson Inc.; David Cambria, Global Director of Law, Compliance & Government Relations; and Gabe Miller, President and General Counsel of 1-800-Law-Firm.

Four out of four, or 100 percent of General Counsel agreed that:

1. They prefer to like the outside lawyers they hire.

2. They don’t care about the total amount or length of information on a lawyer’s website bio – they just want it to have information that is relevant to them and not too hard to find.

3. They don’t care about the length of a practice group description – they just want it to have information that is relevant to them and not too hard to find.

4. They would be receptive to outside lawyers asking how they are doing and how they can improve.

5. They prefer in-person service surveys to written forms.

6. They would accept an introduction to a new lawyer if it comes from a current lawyer who is a trusted advisor.

7. They see little or no value in most law firm brochures and leave-behinds, as currently written.

8. They do not see outside counsel making strong attempts to learn the client’s business or industry.

9. They think most outside counsel do not understand the importance of business and industry context to a matter.

10. They look first to their fellow GCs and in-house counsel for references when looking for a new outside lawyer in a new area.

11. They use engagement letters to instruct outside counsel on billing practices and other important parts of representation, and they audit firms for compliance with those hiring instructions.

12. They give plus points to firms that have alternative fee flexibility and minus points to those who don’t.

13. They give plus points to firms that have undergone systematic project management training.

14. They want outside counsel to pick up the phone and proactively tell them about any headline problems the firm is having (deserting partners, sexual misconduct, associates caught overbilling, etc) so they can be prepared to defuse the situation with their CEO if asked about the stability of Firm X.

15. They would like to see some kind of quantification of a lawyer or law firm’s experience, as in number of cases tried to verdict, number of transactions closed by type, percentage of times they have delivered results under budget, etc.

16. They would like to see industry experience on a lawyer’s profile.

17. They see very few firms proactively seeking out client feedback on service and performance.

Three out of four said that:

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

2. In some or all matters, they have instructed firms that they won’t pay for 1st year time.

3. They usually speak to an outside lawyer about improving before canning them.

4. They have used e-billing software to check law firm invoices for compliance with hiring letter instructions.

5. They have fired firms or lawyers because they ignored the hiring instructions.

6. They don’t care about Super Lawyer status.

7. They value industry knowledge and experience more than materially lower hourly rates, but rates are more important than Chambers rankings.

8.  They would like to know how a law firm uses technology to improve delivery times, improve quality or cut costs.

9. They would give a law firm plus points for undergoing a process improvement program IF it produced measurable enhancements in efficiency.

10. They would be interested in seeing a little something about lawyer hobbies or interests on their profiles.

Some of the other highlights from questioning included the following:

1. Half of the panelists said that they MUST like the person they are hiring as outside counsel.

2. Half regularly read one or more law firms newsletters or client alerts.

3. Half think law firm “leave-behinds” should be two pages or less, and the other half don’t care about length – only wanting to see as much “relevant” material as possible.

4. Service issues likely to get lawyers dumped include: being wishy-washy about advice; busting budgets; surprising the GC with negative news; and not following guidelines in the hiring instruction letter.

5. Half scrutinize outside counsel most closely on whether or not they listen well and respond exactly to what the GC is asking.

6. Half would give plus points to a firm that had a service pledge promising adherence to certain service standards.

7. None of them would penalize a lawyer for displaying hobbies or interests on a profile.

8. Half actually initiate or insist on service interviews with their top firms to assess how they are doing and how things can improve.

9. They wish firms would make better use of data so that they can develop reasonable fixed fee arrangements and alternative fee arrangements, predict outcomes better for liability and damages, and demonstrate cost histories by types and locations of matters. Companies have to make use of data every day – they don’t get how so many law firms are still “flying blind” in 2014.

10. They don’t think firms are honest enough about what they can NOT do well.

The panelists were all savvy veteran legal leaders, one of whom had also served as a CEO, and three of whom had been in the chief legal chair at more than one company. Their responses were also fairly consistent with other panels I have hosted, and so law firms would do well to pay attention to them !




  1. John this is a great post. If more in house counsel were asked the same questions they would provide the same replies. I have made many of the same points to outside counsel in presentations to outside counsel.

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