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"I get my info from Twitter" (and 27 other ideas from In-House Counsel)

When 3M’s Managing Counsel, Joe Otterstetter, said he used Twitter for legal updates you could have heard a pin drop in the audience of 1,000+ people attending the 2015 Legal Marketing Association Conference in San Diego. General Counsel from CareFusion and PetCo joined Joe in a panel discussion about how buying legal services is changing.

Insights and ideas from this panel’s conversation:

  1. There is an increase in use of automation, ‘big data’ analytics and alternative providers of legal services with all of the panelist's organisations shifting budget to in-house teams and strategic in-sourcing options.
  2. Websites and blogs were most useful in assessing the expertise and reputation of lawyers
  3. Social Media, including Twitter, is playing a more important role in positioning lawyers.  ‘Twitter gives me focused news and I can click through if I want to go deeper'.
  4. Networking and being seen at industry events is important for relationship building
  5. Panelists were indifferent about influence of law firms being quoted / featured in general media coverage.
  6. ‘Value Firms’ (mid sized practices with quality work at lower rates) are taking marketshare. 3M ensure their panel portfolios have at least two ‘value firms’ included in the mix for each 'swim lane' of panel providers.
  7. Firms need to leverage resources to optimize use of paralegals and technology.  This is more important than the traditional pitch of Partners being ‘hands on’.
  8. Lawyers should have a clear understanding of the client’s ownership structure and decision making processes.
  9. Educate lawyers about procurement assessment, supply assessment and how to engage with the Procurement function.
  10. Eye-balling lawyers in pitch presentations is the best way to get a 'feel' for the firm, the individuals and what they'd be like to work with.
  11. Include Associates in team meetings and pitches to clients.
  12. Have evidence of your firm’s values, your commitment to pro-bono and commitment to diversity. Don't fake this – if you don't do anything don't make it up or waffle though.  It’s important but not a deal killer.
  13. Clients still see comfort and safety in hourly rates but value based fee structures continue to grow. Firm’s could work alongside clients in trialling fee structures and better understanding how they work.
  14. Provide clients with a checklist of questions about moving from hourly rates to value based fees.  “It gives us safety bumpers"
  15. Consider the services or time you can take off the table to meet client’s budget objectives.  “After all – sometimes good is good enough."
  16. The practice managers, finance and marketing people of law firms should be very tight / work together closely so that pricing models and service align with the firm’s marketing and positioning messages.
  17.  Value based fee arrangements are moving more quickly than changes in firm’s remuneration structures. Be prepared to talk about your firm’s compensation structure and realisation metrics. "We don't want to penalise Partners and their compensation."
  18. Look for a mutually beneficial scenario – as one General Counsel said : “We want you to bill us less but be more profitable (so you keep good talent in your firm).
  19. Bring ideas to clients about how they could review your performance.
  20. Undertake a 360 degree feedback with the client team and the external legal team.
  21. “Visit us, look at our data and be honest about what things should cost and how they could be improved.”
  22. Allow in-house counsel to provide feedback on Partners / lawyers for their annual performance review.  “We’d relish the idea.  It would let firms know who is really key to retaining our work.
  23. Partner with us in our community activities.  Make that your value-added service.”
  24. No-one supported reverse auctions for tendering work. “We don't want to speed date law firms”.
  25. CLE sessions on hot topics (like cyber security or data breach) are very effective for profiling expertise and providing networking opportunities.
  26. Provide subscription facilities in newsletters so clients can select their areas of interest and receive most relevant updates.
  27. Procurement best practices established by Cardinal Health highly regarded by Counsel. Approach includes getting more spend under management, using a spread of external advisers, and using Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO).  
  28. While there were commonalities among the panel of speakers, it’s still a ‘Market of One’.  Each organisation had distinct approaches.  For example 3M ensures that 25% of panel appointments are to new providers whereas PetCo (with a team of 10 in house lawyers) only invites firms they know to tender. 

Insights on issues keeping In-House Counsel up at night, their priorities and how they are managing resources is available from the Association of Corporate Counsel's (ACC) 2015 Chief Legal Officer survey.  

Sue-Ella Prodonovich