Don Silver Thought Leader

At a recent Legal Marketing Association South Florida meeting, general counsels of local corporations detailed how they select outside counsel and why they fire them. They shared insights in a program that Richard Montes de Oca, managing partner of MDO Partners, moderated.

Here are eight essential steps outside counsel must have to take, gain and retain relationships with general counsel:

  • Invest time and resources in getting to know your client’s business, but don’t charge for the time, says Jessica Rivera, general counsel of MotionPoint. Learn the issues that matter to them. Right now, major concerns include the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which affects every company that does business with a resident of that state, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which has spawned thousands of lawsuits for unwanted texts, calls and faxes.
  • Get to know more than the corporate attorneys, adds Joe Pallot, general counsel of Heico. Regularly communicate with those on the business side, not just the attorneys in the GC’s office. Develop first-person relationships to build trust and improve communication. Marketing directors should train attorneys on client management and communications, notes Rivera.
  • Align the law firm’s economic interests with those of the client, says Montes de Oca. Know the business of the business, adds Warren Jay Stamm, general counsel of Newgard Development Group. His company tends to hire large law firms because project financiers require that and because they cross multiple disciplines.
  • Be proactive, says Stamm. Anticipate what needs to be done and monitor cases through services such as Pacer. Share news of new legal actions and significant updates on current cases. Sometimes, lawyers at outside counsel will know that the client is being sued before in-house attorneys receive notice, says Rivera.
  • Analyze each case and always lead with a recommended solution to a situation, Rivera and Stamm say. Present a strategy; don’t just state the problem, adds Voula Liroff, deputy general counsel at HealthChannels. When presenting a new legal matter, topline it in a short, forwardable communication, says Liroff. “Short and sweet” is what she likes. Don’t be academic with in-house counsel, warns Rivera. It’s a turn-off.
  • Think and act in terms of the value your firm provides to the client. Value, not price is important, says Liroff. She wants attorneys to engage her with ideas. Cheap is not always the cheapest if the intellectual quality of the legal work is not there. Don’t bill for one-tenth of one hour, notes Pallot. Play the long game by sacrificing a little now for a stronger relationship; show that six minutes on the invoice as a courtesy discount. Once the firm’s value to the company has been established, then price can be negotiated, says Stamm. His company uses success fees as much as possible to bring down the cost of legal fees. It will pay 60%-80% of the typical firm’s hourly rate plus a success fee.
  • Have a strong online presence, panel members say. Detailed histories of the law firm and biographies of the attorneys, especially those we don’t know, are tremendously important, says Pallot. LinkedIn is where it is at, adds Montes de Oca. That means staying on the radar and becoming a subject matter expert in respected publications, says Rivera. Social media is also another form getting out there. But don’t rely entirely on the web to sell your firm and its people. Attorneys should attend Association of Corporate Counsel meetings, says Pallot. Find other business opportunities to interact with in-house attorneys such as Bar and legal association meetings, panelists agree.
  • When pitching, show that you have done your homework and understand the company’s issues, says Pallot. Share your thought processes and judgement for a particular legal matter. Provide bios of likely associates for our matter. Businesspeople review it to, and they need to gain insights and understanding. And there’s no need to bring a busload of people to the pitch. After securing a contract, maintain the same level of customer service and support as you did during the pitch. Rivera says that she has fired firms for lack of responsiveness. Meet in advance of the contract coming up for renewal, adds Stamm.

As the GC panel concluded, it was very clear that they view outside counsel as true advisers and value their legal and business advice, especially proactivity with true risk management. Also, evident, is that value—not the hourly rate—and great customer service with a focus on the total organization—not just the legal department, are extremely important to general counsel.

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