25 Ways Corporates View Law Firm Marketing

Four corporate GCs gave their unvarnished opinions of law firm marketing at the recent LSSO conference I attended in Chicago. The Rapid Fire GC Panel, with moderator Michael Chu of McDermott Will & Emery, was a fast-paced discussion with direct one-word, one-sentence and one-minute answers to pertinent questions about client concerns with legal service and sales.

The panellists

Vicki Baue, Vice President and General Counsel, CCO & VP Human Resources, Cosi Inc.

Size of team: 2 lawyers.

Paul Liebenson, GM – Regional General Counsel, North America, ArcelorMittal.

Size of team: 10 lawyers in US, 200 around the world.

Fred Stein, SVP & General Counsel, Redbox.

Size of team: 4 in his department. 11 in organisation.

Lydia Wahike, Vice President, General Counsel, Chicago Cubs.

Size of team: stretched to the limit with 2 lawyers and a paralegal.

What they said

  1. All panelists use LinkedIn but to varying degrees.  Paul described it as an ‘essential tool’ for business.
  2. ‘Super Lawyer’ rankings meant nothing and Law360 was not used.  “It’s expensive click bait.”
  3. Opinions about lawyer profiles on firm websites?
    1. Vickie Baue: “Very difficult to find specific experience.”
    2. Paul Liebenson: “Needs to be the right amount of information and well organised.”
    3. Lydia Wahike: “Why don’t they connect their practices back to their people?” Fred agreed.
  4. Should lawyers include their hobbies on their profiles?
    1. Vicki Baue: Nice to know. It was useful in one situation.
    2. Paul Liebenson: Nice to know for relationship building.
    3. Lydia Wahike: Agreed
    4. Fred Stein: Humanizes lawyers – not just an INTJ (Myers Briggs profile) type lawyer
  5. Content Marketing – newsletters and blogs
    1. All panellists read or scanned newsletters from law firms.
    2. Blogs met with a mixed reaction.
    3. Brochures offered little value as they were too general.
    4. Has content marketing led to work?  Yes.  3 out of 4 panellists have hired lawyers because of an article that profiles their skill in a specialised area of law.
  6. Client Feedback Programs
    1. All panellists were receptive to client feedback meetings, so long as the firms demonstrated they listened to the feedback.
    2. All preferred giving feedback in person (rather than over the phone or in writing).  However, Vicki noted that if the feedback was being gathered by a third party she would prefer to provide it over the phone rather than an meeting.
  7. Cross-Introductions
    1. All panellists welcomed cross-introductions if it was directly relevant to their business. Fred added that he welcomed introductions to non-lawyers or clients that are relevant to Redbox’s business.
  8. Do you think lawyers understand your industry?
    1. “If they invested another 20 minutes on this before our meetings it would make a huge impact."
    2. “Our major suppliers know our industry but most of the time our lawyer don’t.”
  9. What has caused you to fire your lawyer?
    1. The main reasons were ignoring instructions or being unresponsive.
    2. Redbox outlined its expectations of lawyers in a document called 'Rules to Live By'. “We don’t want any surprises because it makes us look bad.”
    3. Lydia Wahike:  Attended a CLE session where a lawyer made fun of the Chicago Cubs (her company). “It just showed a lack of loyalty. If you work with us, show loyalty to our product – buy our tickets or use our products in your office.”
    4. Vickie Baue: “When their expertise is not what we were led to believe.”
    5. Paul Liebenson: “One firm promised us they would win and then lost two high profile cases. They didn’t manage expectations.”
  10. What’s usually missing in proposals or RFP (Request for Proposal) submissions?
    1. “A laser sharp focus on business and industry.”
    2. Opening paragraphs that ‘pop’ and show how well you understand the situation.
    3. Explanation of the assumptions used to determine fee proposals.
    4. Contingencies to situations described in the (RFP).
    5. Fred Stein: How you can save us money and align with Redbox’s value proposition?
    6. Lydia Wahike: Be able to explain or defend your costs?
    7. Lydia Wahike: Relevant industry experience.
  11. If you are looking for a provider in a new area of law (ie outside your existing providers) where do you go?
    1. Word of mouth: Referrals from staff, other General Counsel and business network; Referrals from trusted external counsel.
    2. Fred Stein: “We talk about lawyers all the time.”
  12. How do I get a first meeting with you?
    1. Bring something relevant and specific to my attention; approach me through my network. If you know someone who could be good for our business then connect me.
    2. Lydia Wahike: Come to a game and set up time in advance.
  13. Best tchotchke (favourite gifts)
    1. Power chargers.
    2. Umbrellas.
    3. Go Pro Camera (gift from Norton Rose Fulbright at ACC conference).
  14. Younger lawyers
    1. Firms should not charge for first year lawyers. Fred agreed with this – others didn’t.
    2. Should associates be doing paralegal work?  Most agreed this happens out of necessity. Fred, “even I end up doing ‘paralegal’ work when I have to.”
  15. Do you care about the training programs for associate lawyers?
    1. Vicki Baue: Assume it is in place but I don’t care about the details.
    2. Others – yes, we care.  Fred Stein: I love to be involved.  Invite me. It demonstrates a commitment to quality.
  16. A legal experience that wowed you?
    1. Unwinding a joint venture in 2 ½ weeks to meet a deadline.  Over-delivered.
  17. Should we pitch diversity?
    1. No – just walk the talk. Actions speak louder than words. We all do due diligence and you won’t meet criteria if you are not diverse.
  18. Any RFP or sales pitch has blown you away?
    1. Paul Liebenson: I had a meeting with a global firm based in Chicago. The lawyer asked if he could bring his Managing Partner. That was OK. Then they arrived with a third person – a young Indian female Senior Associate because our owner is Indian. It was too obvious. It was repugnant.
    2. Fred Stein: The partners who want to pitch over lunch and think the deal is then done.
    3. Paul Liebenson: Good pitch example – Financial planner.  Able to contact him on the most mundane things. Very responsive, strategic and operational – can deal on both levels.
    4. Lydia Wahike: Financial Planning – they are the best in customer service.
    5. Fred Stein:  Zappos for shoes. They listen to their customers.
    6. Vicki Baue: Real estate broker – helpful beyond the scope of the just selling a house.
  19. In regard to having deep industry experience is it viewed as a negative if a law firm represents one of your competitors?
    1. Vicki Baue: No. Unless the matter or information is too sensitive.
    2. Paul Liebenson: It depends. It’s a positive for international trade or environmental and safety areas but more problematic in commercial areas. We ask firms to disclose this.
    3. Fred Stein: Not really – but there are limits. It makes you wonder about the investment in the relationship knowing they could pull out the conflict card in the future.
  20. How do law firms get a seat at their table?
    1. Fred Stein: Show you have something that adds to our business – buy-in to our commitments to better understand our commercial drivers – don’t just focus on risk.
    2. Lydia Wahike: It's more about creating a business partnership.
    3. Paul Liebenson: Speak the language of business – don’t use legal jargon.  Look for ways to add value to the business.
    4. Vickie Baue: Treat us the same way we treat customers – our job is to get the deal done and you are there to represent our brand at all times.
  21. What areas will you always engage external counsel for?
    1. Vickie Baue: Litigation and security transactions.
    2. Paul Liebenson: Litigation and M&A.
    3. Lydia Wahike:  Litigation.
    4. Fred Stein: Litigation and IP.
  22. What’s keeping you up at night? (concerns of GC)
    1. Vickie Baue: Budgets and fee estimates. We have a small budget so it’s therefore really important that we get realistic estimates. We are a small team so we don’t have capacity for surprises. I then have to explain internally why I was wrong about scope – instead I need to set the expectations of management. Help me think through the process – ask questions. I may not have the expertise to brief all the pieces. Don’t just take what I say as the only way. Be a part of our in-house team – an extension of our team.
      I would rather a lawyer decline a job if they can’t meet the timelines. Be upfront as soon as possible. Give me the option to make other plans. I’d rather be realistic – I don’t want to go back to the Board or CEO with why I don’t have an answer. I may be able to re-program my deadlines – if it’s realistic. I may push back if I can’t change my timeline – but I want the conversation. I hope I am realistic – if I tell you it’s a hard deadline then it is.
      If you know you are going over budget, then work on how we could get back on budget — eg move work to our in-house team; use a cheaper firm for part of the work.
    2. Lydia Wahike: Be proactive and be a good ambassador for our brand. Know our product, appreciate it and understand how we get it to markets. Show loyalty, especially when we are such a public brand. Take extra care when talking about our brand in the firm, especially when it’s a brand like Chicago Cubs.  We have members in your firms (all matters use project names for extra confidentiality).
      Alternative fee arrangements (AFA): We budget a year in advance.  If I come back to you six months later, it's unacceptable to then start talking about caveats and assumptions – you should have outlines that at the beginning of the year. Tell me these things when you are giving me your fee quote. I’ve found that law firms have no training or mentoring on budgeting – many lawyers are therefore not able to have frank discussions. As a matter spins out of control lets have a discussion about assumptions. The biggest problem is when AFA sets unrealistic expectations or assumptions. Don’t come back saying it cost twice what you thought, so you should get an uplift.
    3. Fred Stein: We are a very consumer-facing business. Our service providers are an extension of our team so they need to share our values. Don’t nickel and dime me and I wont nickel and dime you. Those small things (extra costs) build up. You can’t factor in overhead! Give me a break. Every year you’re going to get more expensive? Give me a break. Everyone is doing more with less – why not you?
      How can you differentiate yourself? We use SMART goal setting. Find out our business goals. Search ‘proxy statement’ for our company on Google. Search also for executive pays and compensation schemes. If you know our performance metrics then all business goals cascade down. The bonus pool doesn’t get funded if we don’t hit our numbers.
    4. Paul Liebenson: Firms that overwork matters. It’s usually a problem with individual lawyers – some just overwork the files. And we know who they are. We just don’t ever use those individuals again.
  23. How to pitch to you?
    1. Lydia Wahike:  Don’t stick our logo on the front cover of a proposal. I know our logo. I want to know about your firm and how you will help us.
    2. Fred Stein: Pay attention to budget and cost containment issues. For example, the 'no surprise' policy, case studies and scenarios. Make assumptions clear.
  24. What about lawyers who go to corporate executives to pitch for work?
    1. All agreed this was not a cool thing to do.
    2. Paul Liebenson: You’ll lose my business if you go to business people first.
    3. Fred Stein: We’re accountable for the legal budget – so it comes through us anyway.
  25. Do they welcome team meetings with law firms?
    1. Paul Liebenson: Yes. We have these with firms we have a relationship with. Half the meetings look back/review the past period and other half looks at future needs.
    2. Fred Stein: I’d be very impressed if you welcomed other law firms to these meetings and the result was that we walked away with 3 ideas for our business

A version of this article originally appeared on LawMarketing.com