Posted by: johnocunningham | July 4, 2014

LMA Panel of In-house Leaders Offer “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to Legal Service Providers

At the LMA-New England chapter event on May 15, a panel of five in-house legal leaders told the audience what they think about dozens of issues relating to legal marketing and legal service.

The panel included: Kathleen Burke, V.P. and General Counsel for MKS Instruments, Inc.; Jonathan Feltner, Chief Trial Counsel for the MBTA; Julie McCarthy, Executive Director and Associate General Counsel for Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research; Leonard Slap, General Counsel for Atlantic Tele-Network, Inc.; and Mark Wong, General Counsel for Acronis.

Five out of five, or 100 percent of the panelists agreed that:

1. They don’t care about the length of a lawyer profile on firm websites, as long as they can find the information that is relevant to them.

2. They don’t care about the length of a practice group description on a website, as long as they can find the information that is relevant to them.

3. They all are receptive to their legal providers asking, “How are we doing and how can we improve?”

4. They all prefer in-person surveys on legal service rather than getting a written form to fill out.

5. They all read one or more law firm newsletters or client alerts regularly.

6. They all feel that most law firm brochures and leave-behinds offer little or no value as currently constituted.

7. They all see associates doing work that could sometimes be delegated to paralegals.

8. They don’t care about Super Lawyer status in making a hiring decision.

9. They all rate industry knowledge as more important than Super Lawyer status or Chambers rankings.

10. They all give plus points to firms with alternative fee flexibility.

11. They all would like to see some quantification of a lawyer’s experience on a profile or in sales materials, such as how many trials they have done, how many transactions they have closed of a certain type, percentages of times they have finished a project under budget or ahead of schedule, etc.

12. They would give a law firm plus points for going through systemic project management training (something offered in many companies).

13. They would like to see industry experience on a lawyer’s profile (but don’t).

14. They want law firm relationship lawyers to tell them quickly if the firm is in the news or about to be in the news in a bad way (harassment allegations, client overbilling charges, a raft of lawyers leaving, etc.) so that the in-house person can do “damage control” internally with curious C-suite questioners.

Four out of five agreed that:

1. They would be favorably impressed by a firm that offers free annual visits solely for the purpose of learning more about a client’s business.

2. They would speak to outside counsel about improving before firing them or dumping them from an approved list.

3. They don’t care about the length of law firm brochures or leave-behinds – just whether the relevant information to them is in there.

4. They would be receptive to having a valued provider introduce them to another lawyer who could also become a valued provider.

5. They would consider paying a bonus to a law firm for solid work that closes ahead of schedule or delivers results beyond expectations.

Three out of five said that:

1. They have instructed law firms that they will not pay for 1st year associate time on certain projects.

2. They must like the lawyer they are hiring.

3. They would like to see lawyer hobbies and interests on attorney profiles.

4. They look first to other in-house sources for referrals when seeking out a new lawyer in a new field.

5. They would be interested to know how a firm makes use of technology to better serve its clients in terms of cost, speed or results.

One lawyer noted that she never looks at cases cited by lawyers, and takes a dim view of string cites supplied in lawyer profiles or even briefs. She wants to know the bottom line answers, and is too busy to read cases or review “legal gymnastics.” Other panelists were noted giving a nod to this observation as well.

The panelists also offered their individual opinions on a variety of topics that are important to legal service providers. For instance, they each called out different service issues most likely to get a lawyer fired or dropped from approved counsel listings as follows:

  • Going materially over budget on billing;
  • Being poor at communicating or responding; and
  • Having no strategy for achieving objectives.

Other real-life service issues that caused lawyers to be fired were:

  • Allowing a 1st year associate to bill more than 16 hours in a day;
  • Doing a poor job on a project; and
  • Sending a brief to the GC for review just one day prior to it being due.

Some of the things most often missing from RFPs or sales pitches are:

  • Budgets; and
  • How you plan to achieve great results.

Some suggested ways of getting into the door to see them:

  • Just pick up the phone and call;
  • Find a way to get introduced through one of my trusted advisers or friends;
  • Offer to speak to me about a hot topic that affects my business.

Some examples of “wow” service that clients loved include:

  • Getting things done weeks before they are due instead of at the last minute;
  • Great project management and communications;
  • Creative and thoughtful work under pressure and wonderful follow-up on a deal that did not even close through no fault of the lawyer; and
  • Referrals to other firms who can provide better expertise in certain areas.

Some examples of publications they like to read include:

  • The Cooley Godward patent litigation newsletter;
  • The Practising Law Institute summaries; and
  • ACC publications for in-house lawyers.

Some quotes and paraphrases of interest:

1. “Firms should have better metrics to determine costs on various matters… Give us goal posts and we’ll work between them… Outside counsel generally need to be more proactive about discussing budgets.”

2. “Associates must try to be efficient, but they also have to be careful while learning. My advice to them is ‘Measure twice and cut once’ because a mistake can be deadly. It is up to the partners to train them and to write off their time, if necessary, while learning.”

3. “I measure a lawyer’s emotional intelligence as much as their skills. We need to put the right attorneys in front of our clients – people who will fit well with the group and make a good impression.”

4. “The size of the firm is not important to me, as long as the fit is right, and hourly rates don’t matter at all if the expertise is there to demonstrate value.”



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