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What the 'best' lawyers can do: 36 ideas from General Counsel

This year's Annual Legal Sales & Service Organisation's (LSSO) Raindance conference is being held in Chicago June 4 - 5 and will include the popular 'rapid fire' panel interview with four General Counsel of leading US corporations.

Below are my notes from the 2013 'rapid fire' panel session with views from GC of AAA Southern New England, Massachusetts Port Authority, BJs Wholesale Club and The Timberland Company.  The conversation in this session moves quickly to cover a wide range of views and interpretation variations should be acknowledged.  

SUGGESTIONS FROM GENERAL COUNSEL

  1. Market of One:  Each GC had different views about how they like to manage relationships and service levels. Suggest lawyers avoid standard templates for key account management.
  2. All said their law firms had ‘sharpened’ their pricing. 
  3. All agreed that firm’s should stop using powerpoint in pitches
  4. All would like greater focus on company issues (rather than relationship issues)
  5. Generally prefer service from Partner – and will pay for it.  No one believed they should pay for first year lawyers.
  6. All receptive to being asked for feedback – half were ambivalent about what the firm would do with that feedback.
  7. All welcomed introductions to other lawyers in the firms they
  8. All welcome cross-selling if introducing lawyer has earned credibility and the introduction demonstrated understanding of their business.
  9. All reviewed and read newsletters sent to them by law firms
  10. Prefer ‘ just in time’ advice in newsletters
  11. Read anything accompanied by a personal note that explains why it is being sent to them.
  12. All thought brochures offered no value
  13. 50% follow legal blogs – relevant to their interests.  Employment law blogs mentioned most.
  14. Stop talking about diversity and community in collateral and pitches – just demonstrate it. “Don’t shout it – walk it".
  15. Most don't think their lawyers put in sufficient effort to understand their business
  16. All GC have law firm invoices audited to confirm compliance with agreements / SLA.
  17. GC will follow individual lawyers – but not if their rates increase.  They also want to know who else from the lawyer’s team move with them and what the culture of the new firm is like and what attracted that lawyer to the new firm.  Solo moves are treated with a degree of wariness.  They expect the lawyer to initiate the conversation, outline why they changed firms and their plans for the future.
  18. In respect of their role and career success – they rely on Association of Corporate Counsel and own networks for advice.
  19. All would take a cold call and meet with ‘unknown firm’ if they had relevant expertise in their sector / familiarity with their issue. Most would prefer an email first – with an outline of the practice and how they could help on a particular issue.
  20. All would accept a meeting over coffee if conversation included idea on how to solve a problem.
  21. Most would talk to lawyers who had an innovative approach to fees if they also demonstrated relevant expertise.
  22. How do they assess their lawyers? Half rank outside counsel on set criteria on an annual basis.  All consider how well the lawyer understands their business (most important), personal relationship and commercial outcome of work.
  23. Emotional intelligence is very important – especially for team work and when working under pressure.
  24. All GC ask for feedback from their team members.  Importantly, all had observed or were aware of the manner in which Partners treated the most junior team members on the client’s team as well as their own team.  One GC had fired a firm on this basis.
  25. All said League tables don’t matter – least important criteria.
  26. Low attrition rates are not a selling point.
  27. Most impressed by law firms that have studied issues facing their business along with the people and politics in their business before a site visit.  
  28. All GC expect that their firms include a service measure(client feedback measure) in Partner performance reviews.  They all expect it to be a key criterion of promotion to Partnership.
  29. Most annoyed when firms demonstrate a lack of candor about mistakes or missed deadlines; unwillingness to explain overruns on discovery.
  30. Biggest thing missing from Proposals is suggestions for strategy and offering options.  Firms should start with these.
  31. Technology:  Most GC were interested in the technology firm’s use.
  32. None were interested in whether firms undertake associate training programs – they were however interested in outcome of specific training initiatives.
  33. If there’s a crisis (eg bad PR or news) at the firm they use they would all prefer a heads up from a Partner before reading or hearing news.
  34. In regard to lawyer profiles – most interested in community service work rather than personal hobbies.
  35. In regard to service pledges – most interested in the particular service they receive.  Not the firm’s stated pledge / promise / service guarantees.
  36. What do their ‘ best’ lawyers do?
  • Understand our budget pressures and demands on in-house team
  • Make the in-house team look good
  • Include in-house counsel on communications with other business management
  • Understand the context of issues in respect of the people and politics of the client’s business
  • Put together strategy and options and outline downsides of approach
  • Value team diversity
  • Use the firm's legal analysis capabilities to help Counsel better understand the other sides of a transaction."
Sue-Ella Prodonovich