Client Conversations: New Business

Each of the 47 lawyers was given a list of five customized questions around which to structure the conversation.  The conversation should be all about the client, and not all about the law firm.

After 60 days, more than 100 client conversations had been completed, generating useful qualitative and quantitative data.  The results were shared with 17 client teams.  The firm achieved 13 additional matters in the same practice area, 15 cross-selling opportunities, and one significant new business opportunity.

Based on feedback from clients, the law firm was able to:

1.       Engage in a training program with the client that enhanced visibility.

2.       Encourage the client to use the firm’s litigation management extranet, in order to manage legal costs from multiple law firms.

3.       Help the client re-scope a fixed-fee arrangement in order to improve realization.

4.       Help the client draft an article for the ACC on partnering on pro bono opportunities.

5.       Leverage client conversation into a plant tour, a meeting with the founders and a request for proposal for a broad range of legal services.

By developing a packaged training program and toolkit to prepare each attorney for the challenge, encouraging participation, and tracking feedback and results, attorneys at this firm gained great insights into their clients’ businesses, expanded contracts within the clients’ organizations, built goodwill and better relationships, and improved internal communication among lawyers and practice groups.

 

This is part five of a five-part article.  To see the entire article:

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business

Client Conversations: Case Study

Leonard, Street and Deinard is among Minnesota’s largest law firms, with 200 attorneys.  Wicker Park Group worked with them on a highly successful “client conversation” program to retain and expand quality business.  They developed tools and trained the firm’s trainers.

Forty-seven of the firm’s attorneys accepted an invitation to participate in the program.  “A firm should start the program using the attorneys who are the most interested,” said Slavin.  “In any group, there are 10 percent early adapters, 10 percent absolute naysayers, and 80 percent who will wait and see.  Positive results from a pilot project can be used to persuade the reluctant.”

Each attorney was asked to identify three, four or five high-value clients to visit face-to-face within a 60-day time frame, schedule the visit, prepare for the meeting, rehearse for the meeting, meet with the client, report on the outcome of the meeting and follow up with the client.  The lawyer making the appointment should be someone neutral, not be the relationship lead.

The firm’s marketing department supported the volunteer attorneys with each step of the process. 

“Support included creation of talking points to use in scheduling a conversation; development of best practices for conducting the conversation (including role play, practice dialogue and listening skills); and collection of primary (existing), secondary (competitive intelligence) and relationship (who knows whom) research to thoroughly educate the lawyer prior to the conversation,” said Slavin.

Support also included development of a tool for recording and reporting results of the conversations as well as a method of rewarding and recognizing successful efforts.

 

This is part four of a five-part article.  To see the entire article:

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business

Client Conversations: Meeting Client Needs

Obviously, there are many ways in which a lawyer and law firm can address these concerns and make life easier for the CLOs with whom they work.  The purpose of a client conversation is to uncover these concerns and come up with practical solutions that address them.

Communication between inside and outside counsel is a hot button for many CLOs.  “One of the most common complaints we hear from clients is about unclear emails,” said Slavin.  “Be specific in the message line.  Keep the message succinct, with the main point up front.  After a chain of three emails, pick up the phone and speak with the client.  Do not send an email at 2 a.m.  It just makes the client nervous.  Write it at 2 a.m., if you must, but send it in the morning.”

If your client prefers to communicate in person or by phone instead of email, respect those preferences.  Make sure that a real, informed person answers your phone and that messages do not go to voicemail or to an uninformed switchboard.

“Cost of legal services is also obviously a big problem for CLOs,” said Slavin.  “Prior to the recession and current economic pressures, in-house counsel were comfortable sending work to outside counsel.  With current cost pressures, legal departments are forced to handle more of this work in-house.  Competition for ‘outside’ work and pressure to control cost is extreme.

“When a client gets a series of monthly bills for $20,000, and the outside lawyer says that the next month will be more, and the bill shows up at $65,000,” said Slavin, “that is a massive failure to manage the client’s expectations and an equally massive disconnect in understanding the client’s budget.  Without exception, CLOs hate surprises.”

Another common complaint is bills with small increments, like 30 or 40 minutes a day listed over several days for the same project.  Clients want lawyers to be focused in their use of time.

Understanding the preferences of individual clients is also essential.  “I spoke with one new corporate counsel who had been invited out by a client for an evening of steak, scotch and cigars,” said Slavin.  “This approach had apparently worked well with her predecessor.  However, she was a vegetarian with a husband and a three-year-old waiting at home.  She just wanted to be able to spend more time with her family!  This was not the best way to build a relationship with her.”

 

This is part three of a five-part article.  To see the entire article:

 

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business

Client Conversations: What Clients Really Want

A client who has hired a lawyer as outside counsel assumes that the lawyer is qualified to do good legal work.  Otherwise, the lawyer would not have made the cut in the first place.   Quoting a client, Slavin said:  “Smart is what gets you in the door.  How you manage the relationship is what keeps you inside.”  The relationship is what builds loyalty.

“We have conducted more than 1,000 client interviews,” said Slavin.  “As a result, I have a pretty good sense of ‘what clients want.’  They want lawyers who can fix their problems.  They want lawyers who can make their lives easier.  They want lawyers with whom they can have a close and enjoyable personal relationship.”

In 2011, the ACC conducted a survey of chief legal officers and general counsel.  Forty-two percent came from private companies, 34 percent from public companies, and the rest from non-profits, subsidiaries of foreign companies, LLCs and other organizations.

Survey respondents look for good value for the money they spend, reasonable cost, transparency between the lawyer and the client, and understanding of issues facing the client and its industry.

The most pressing issues expressed by these CLOs are:

                Keeping apprised of company issues with potential legal implications,

                Reducing outside legal costs,

                Dealing with too much work and too few resources,

                Staying on top of developments in the law,

                Communicating changes in the law to management, and

                Demonstrating the value of the legal department to management.

The biggest challenges faced by CLOs include regulation/legislation, general economic outlook, growth, globalization, competition/maintaining market share, controlling risk, being sole risk manager, increasing litigation, lack of funding, healthcare reform, compliance, internal actions with legal implications, quality of law firms, being spread too thin, need for a strategic business partner, and training and motivating a law department as well as the company’s executives.

 

This is part two of a five-part article.  To see the entire article:

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business


Lawyers are always interested in getting more work and better work from their existing clients.  If you ask a lawyer what his or her client really wants, the lawyer is likely to say “good legal work.”  If you ask the client, you’ll get a far different answer.  The client’s answer is what counts.

“To get more and better business from their clients, lawyers and law firms need to have ‘the conversation’ to find out what clients really expect from the relationship,” said Nat Slavin.  “Only about 10 to 15 percent of law firms are actually having these essential conversations with their clients.

“It is important to understand that these are not traditional ‘sales calls’ in which a lawyer’s primary concern is asking for new business,” said Slavin.  “Nor are they point-by-point surveys.

“They are structured, customized conversations in which a representative of the law firm skillfully probes to discover client needs, preferences and opinions,” said Slavin.  “Without directly asking for it, these conversations almost always generate new business.”

The Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge developed a “meet, talk, act” approach to effective client conversations:  meet with a client face-to-face, talk to the client about problems and needs, and act by coming up with and implementing concrete ways to solve problems and meet needs.

Slavin discussed the use of strategic client conversations as a business-development tool at the March educational meeting of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association.  The event took place March 12 at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in LoDo, Denver.

Slavin is a founder and partner in the Wicker Park Group, which focuses on law firm client feedback interviews, client growth programs, and training and development.  Slavin is the former publisher of Inside Counsel  and former president of the Legal Marketing Association.

This is part one of a five-part article.  To see the entire article:

Client Conversations Strengthen Relationships, Lead to New Business

CSIs: When persuading partners, show -- don't tell

Part three of a three-part article, based on a presentation made by Kent Zimmermann of Zeughauser Group.

 

Law firm partners resist CSIs for many reasons.  In particular, they erroneously think that they know everything there is to know about the client, they are in denial (they don’t want to know if a client is unhappy) or they don’t want others in the firm to now that the client is dissatisfied.

 

“It is important to position CSIs correctly,” said Zimmermann.  “Do not position them as a ‘checkup’ or ‘report card’ on any given lawyer.  Rather, position them as a way to provide better service, acquire intelligence on competitors and find new work.

 

“In Zeughauser Group’s experience, general counsel like to participate and find CSIs very therapeutic,” said Zimmermann.  “At the end of an interview, we often hear ‘I hope you will be coming back to do this again next year.’”

 

The CSI should not be conducted by the relationship partner.  “The client will not be as candid with this person,” said Zimmermann.  “CSIs can be conducted by the firm’s chairman or a senior partner – someone whose attention will ‘honor’ the client and whose authority within the firm will ensure compliance with feedback.”  Alternatively, CSIs can be conducted by a skilled outside consultant.

 

There are five stages to an effective CSI pilot program:

 

Design for success.   “Initially, work only with partners who understand how this process can bring them more work,” said Zimmermann.  “Never twist the arms of reluctant or hostile partners to make them participate in your pilot.  They will just drag you down – along with the entire process.”

 

Start with just five clients.  “Do not try to do too much at first,” said Zimmermann.  “Aim to do a focused job with five clients rather than spreading yourselves too thin with many clients.”

 

Use a tiered system.  “Consider putting the firm’s clients into three tiers,” said Zimmermann.  “Tier one might include clients that are largest in terms of revenue.  Tier two might include satisfied clients with potential for growth.  Tier three might include clients with known issues – troubled relationships that the firm wants to get back on the rails.  For your pilot, choose clients from tier two.”

 

Sell your success.  “Empirical and anecdotal evidence of success (from your carefully selected, tier-two, low-hanging fruit) should be shared throughout the firm,” said Zimmermann.  “Use this evidence to demonstrate how the CSI process works and the value it provides – and to sell the initially wary partners.”

 

Get ready for business.  “Once you have demonstrated success with your pilot program, expect a second wave of interested partners to line up at your door,” said Zimmermann.

 

Because of the challenging economic environment, general counsel are expecting much more from their law firms – and are much more likely to abandon firms that do not take active steps to meet those expectations.  CSIs are a best practice among successful law firms -- and part of the bedrock of any solid client-care and loyalty program.

CSIs: General counsel are from Mars; lawyers are from la-la land

Part two of a three-part article, based on a presentation by Kent Zimmermann of Zeughauser Group.

 

Not surprisingly in this economy, cost has dominated the conversation between legal departments and law firms.  According to Inside Counsel magazine, 46 percent of general counsel agree that reducing costs is essential to improving law firm relationships.  Only eight percent of law firms see this issue as important.

 

“According to the Association of Corporate Counsel, the single most important thing a law firm can do is to provide alternative fees and value-based billing options,” said Zimmermann.

 

“Clients like to see retainers, for example, because this arrangement offers predictable cost from month to month.  Hourly rates will endure for bet-the-company work and more specialized, high-value work, but general counsel increasingly want to see alternative fee arrangements proposed for commodity work.  They might not always opt for alternative fees, but they like to see them offered.

 

“Rate discounts can be actual or they can be illusion,” said Zimmermann.  “General counsel need to be able to show their bosses that they are taking steps to control costs.  Some general counsel will tell you to visibly show discounts on your bills.

 

“One general counsel I interviewed asked that the firm show the rates of its top partners in New York with a discounted rate calculated on the bill for other lawyers who were performing the work,” said Zimmermann.  “Long story short – you want to help the general counsel look like a star to his or her superiors.”

 

Staffing can be another disconnect – especially when it comes to associates.  “You have to understand that the average first-year associate earns as much as an in-house lawyer with ten years’ experience,” said Zimmermann.  “In many cases, in-house lawyers are resentful -- and many are explicitly refusing to pay for work performed by first- or second-year associates.

 

Client satisfaction is a critical measure of a law firm’s success.  In many cases, a client will not volunteer dissatisfaction unless asked.  The conflict-averse client will not ‘fire’ a lawyer overtly, but will simply stop sending any new matters his or her way.

 

“Asking clients the right questions, listening actively to their answers, and turning feedback into consistent, meaningful actions are the cornerstones of client service – inspiring client satisfaction and loyalty,” said Zimmermann.   “Conducting effective CSIs can help you get in front of a problem before it’s too late – and discover opportunities for new business.

 

“A Bay Area client for which I did CSIs, for example, did about $1 million in legal work for an energy company in Texas that long had an external spend of $3 million,” said Zimmermann.  “The law firm was confident that it was handling about one-third of this client’s work.

 

“When we interviewed the client on the firm’s behalf, we found that they were indeed satisfied with the law firm – but that the client’s legal spend on the type of matter at issue had tripled over the years to $9 million.  Because the client had a misperception about the law firm’s ‘depth,’ it had been farming this work out to a number of small Texas boutiques.  Armed with intelligence gained from the CSIs, firm leadership flew right down there and secured a significant amount of new work.

 

“Many partners simply do not understand what clients think of them,” said Zimmermann.  “In an often-cited study by Inside Counsel magazine, outside counsel gave themselves pretty good grades on client satisfaction.  Nearly 43 percent said that they deserved an ‘A’ and 50 percent said they deserved a ‘B.’

 

“Clients strongly disagreed,” said Zimmermann.  “They gave an ‘A’ to just 17 percent and a ‘B’ to 72 percent.  There is a strong disconnect between what clients want and what outside counsel are giving them.  The only way to uncover this is to ask.”

 

For the full article:  Client service interviews help law firms keep clients close.

Client satisfaction interviews help law firms keep clients close

Part one of a three-part article, based on a presentation by Kent Zimmermann of Zeughauser Group.

 

Economists may have declared that the Great Recession is officially over, but many businesses and their legal service providers would probably beg to differ.

 

Over or not, the Great Recession has dramatically changed the traditional relationship between legal departments and outside counsel -- in ways that are likely to continue even as the economy improves. Longstanding grievances have risen to the surface.

Businesses and general counsel understand the parameters of this new relationship, but many law firms and lawyers do not.

After years of immunity from corporate cost-cutting efforts, 85 percent of general counsel are now being asked to cut their budgets. Only 26.2 percent of them believe that outside counsel are sensitive to their budget constraints.

To control costs, general counsel are bringing more legal work in-house and, in many cases, using non-traditional providers of legal services. For example, they are turning to cost-effective legal process outsourcers for much of the work previously done by young law firm associates – and asking their law firms to work with these alternative providers for services like e-discovery, document review and even depositions.

For work that requires a law firm, general counsel are moving some matters from costly big national firms to reasonably priced mid-sized regional firms.

“General counsel are facing unprecedented pressure to control costs,” said Kent Zimmermann. “They are demanding discounts, more-predictable alternative fee arrangements and better service from outside counsel.”

“If general counsel do not get what they want in this buyers’ market – they are more than happy to shop around,” said Zimmermann. “Despite the common misperception within law firms, only 13 percent consider their current law firms ‘indispensible.’ More general counsel than ever are switching their primary providers.”

Zimmermann discussed this volatile new marketplace at the monthly educational program of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association (www.legalmarketing.org/rockymountain), held October 12 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Denver.

Zimmermann is a general counsel, former CEO and management consultant with Zeughauser Group (www.consultzg.com), a leading legal industry consultancy.

“2008 and 2009 were challenging years for law firms,” said Zimmermann. “During the first half of 2010, there was reason for optimism for many firms – but demand has been unsteady at best, and performance across the industry continues to be mixed.

“In this highly competitive market, where general counsel have more choices and are less loyal than ever before, lawyers and law firms must do everything it takes to retain and expand their existing client relationships – especially by investing wisely in client-care programs,” said Zimmermann.

“One of the best ways to try to ‘bullet proof’ clients (and expand your relationships with them) is to invest in an ongoing and systematic program of client service interviews,” said Zimmermann.

“Marketing professionals understand the value of CSIs, but many partners do not,” said Zimmermann. “Longstanding ‘disconnects’ between client and lawyer expectations have been amplified by the market challenges facing the legal industry. CSIs are one of the most effective ways to discover (and remedy) these disconnects -- before it’s too late and they destroy an important relationship.”

 

For the full article:  Client satisfaction interviews help law firms keep client close
  

Lawyers and law firms: What you don't know CAN hurt you

Almost all client defections are predictable – and therefore avoidable – if only lawyers and law firms possess the right information.

 

“Information is the power you need to control your reputation and career,” said Shari Harley.  “You never want to be caught by surprise.”

 

Harley is founder of Shari Harley LLC (www.shariharley.com), a Denver-based training and consulting firm that helps organizations create more candid relationships with clients and employees.  She spoke as part of the July program of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association, held July 13 at Primebar in downtown Denver.

 

“Never assume that you know what a client or co-worker is saying about you to others,” said Harley.  “You might think that you are good at what you do and how you do it, but the fact is that you are not the judge.  Your clients and co-workers are the judges.  You are only as good as other people say you are.”

 

The easiest way to get the correct information about your reputation -- how well or how poorly you are satisfying your clients and co-workers – is to ask.  Before asking, you must give the client or co-worker permission to provide honest feedback.

 

“It is much more comfortable to ask questions about your performance when you’ve laid the groundwork at the very start of any professional relationship,” said Harley.  “These tactics work with clients – and with supervisors, colleagues and direct reports.

 

“Start off with this statement:  ‘I want to have a great relationship with you.  If I do anything that violates your expectations or frustrates you, please tell me.  I promise that, no matter what you say, I will say “thank you.”’  Grant permission, ask questions and establish expectations up front,” said Harley.

 

Harley also recommends following up on that statement with a series of “get to know you” questions.  “Asking questions up front is a great differentiator,” said Harley.  “Surprisingly, very few professional service providers actually do this.  It costs you nothing and sets you apart from your competitors.”

 

Good starter questions include:

 

n      Do you prefer to communicate via email or voicemail?

n      Do you prefer scheduled appointments or can I drop by?

n      Do you prefer phone or in-person meetings?

n      What do you want to meet about?  How often?

n      What would you like me to be involved with?

n      What don’t you want me involved with?

n      What are your pet peeves in a working relationship?

 

It also helps to ask a few questions to determine how much a client or co-worker knows about what you do.

 

“Clients and co-workers cannot turn to you for help if they are unclear about your capabilities,” said Harley.  “Make sure that the people you work with are aware of your talents and skills.  Speak on your own behalf -- without being arrogant.”

 

Good questions include:

 

n      What am I best known for?

n      What is my firm/practice area/department best known for?

n      What is my firm/practice area/department not known for?

n      What is the best thing about my/our service?

n      How can I/we improve my/our service?

 

Once you know the preferences of others, it is essential to respect them.  “There is nothing worse than asking for feedback and then ignoring it,” said Harley.  “Keep your word.  Do what you say you will do.

 

“As the relationship progresses, remind clients and co-workers that you want their feedback, and continue to ask for it,” said Harley.  “Throughout the relationship, ask ‘What am I doing that works for you?’ and ‘What can I do differently?’  Each and every time, remember to respect your promise and say ‘thank you’ for the feedback.”

 

Finally, keep in mind that great client and co-worker relationships are not established overnight.  “It takes time and consistency – asking for feedback and acting on it -- to create the trust that leads to a candid relationship,” said Harley.

“Stop guessing what your clients and co-workers think of you and what they need from you,” said Harley.  “Just ask.  Make clients comfortable about providing honest and direct answers.  Use that information to control your reputation and your career – and guard against almost all client defections.”

Panelists tackle the perennial question: What do general counsel want?

The success of lawyers  practicing at law firms depends largely on the choices made by general counsel inside a wide range of client companies.  As a result, outside counsel devote a lot of energy to trying to read the minds of their in-house counterparts.

 

Who makes the decision to buy outside legal services?

What makes general counsel choose one lawyer or firm over another?

When do general counsel turn to outside counsel?

Where is the best place to meet general counsel?

Why do general counsel “fire” outside counsel?

How do you nurture a productive relationship with general counsel?

 

Outside counsel and marketing professionals from Denver law firms got useful answers to these and other questions from a panel of general counsel held May 11 at Primebar Restaurant.  The program was hosted by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association (www.legalmarketing.org/rockymountain). 

 

Panelists came from a variety of industries and included Rebecca Askew, general counsel at Circuit Media (www.circuitmedia.com), David Fine, city attorney at City of Denver (www.denvergov.org), Elliot Miller, director of legal affairs at Pendum LLC (www.pendum.com) and Lisa Scalpone, general counsel at WildBlue Communications (www.wildblue.com).  The program was moderated by Jean Robertson, general counsel at Video Professor, Inc. (www.videoprofessor.com).

 

 

Who makes the decision to buy outside legal services?

 

“For routine matters, I generally select outside counsel myself,” said Scalpone.  “For more important or complicated matters, I will discuss my selection with my CEO.  But contact by outside counsel should definitely come through me.”

 

Most companies maintain a list of lawyers and law firms that have been vetted for particular kinds of legal work.  Some lawyers get on that list because they know the CEO or some other senior executive, who has recommended them.  Others get on the list because they have met and impressed the company’s general counsel.

 

“At the City, we have a ‘stable’ of approved lawyers and law firms in various specialty areas,” said Fine.  “For a routine matter, our nearly 100 lawyers can choose for themselves the outside counsel they want to work with.  For a major matter, I expect to weigh in on that decision.”

 

 

What makes general counsel choose one lawyer or firm over another?

 

Demonstrated skill in a particular practice area and an existing relationship are important factors when general counsel select one lawyer or law firm over another.  Value is also important – and a good way to “break into” an existing relationship.

 

“When I was general counsel at a larger company,” said Askew, “we had some fairly arcane intellectual property work.  The large firm handling it charged a lot of money.  When a smaller firm came to me and agreed to do the same work just as well for a lot less, I could go to my executive committee and show them how much I saved.  That firm made me look good and they got all of our IP work going forward.”

 

Inclusion and diversity are also important differentiators, especially at Fortune 500 companies that have signed on to diversity and inclusiveness initiatives and expect compliance from their service providers.

 

“This is also important when dealing with the City and other government entities,” said Fine.  “We prefer to deal with firms that can demonstrate diversity and inclusiveness.”

 

 

When do general counsel turn to outside counsel?

 

Because of budget constraints, panelists agreed that they try to avoid using outside counsel for anything other than bet-the-company work (where cost is no object), specialized work or geographically specific work.

 

“The worst scenario is when it’s Friday and I need some specific outside legal work done by Monday,” said Scalpone.  “When I’ve got three outside attorneys working all weekend, I really cringe when it comes time to look at the bill.”

 

General counsel prefer to keep routine contracts and transactions in-house, but often turn to outside counsel for financial, employment, intellectual property (including patent), admiralty and litigation.  “In the current economic climate, we are trying to manage costs by keeping some aspects of litigation in-house as well,” said Miller.

 

“The economy motivated Video Professor to bring much of its intellectual property work in-house for the first time,” said Robertson.

 

“At the City, some of our unique needs cannot be met in-house – like bond counsel, aviation and environmental matters involving the airport, lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force by police officers and some ethics opinions,” said Fine.

 

Regulatory matters often prompt general counsel to look for representation in Washington, D.C.  “We are located in Colorado but, as a high-speed Internet access provider, our assets are in the sky and regulated by the FCC,” said Scalpone.  “We need outside lawyers on the ground who can navigate the regulatory system.”

 

Companies with multi-state or international operations also cast a wider net.  “As the nation’s largest independent service provider to ATMs and other cash automation equipment, we have operations in 47 states,” said Miller.  “We always need good local counsel – someone who knows the legal system in a small town in New Jersey.”.

 

 

Where is the best place to meet general counsel?

 

Existing relationships between in-house and outside counsel are often forged over time and difficult – but not impossible – to disrupt.

 

“One very important way to get my attention is to come to me and offer to do a small piece of work for a very good price,” said Scalpone.  “If I like what you do, I will be more willing to work with you in the future.”

 

Industry knowledge on the part of outside counsel is extremely important to general counsel, and they are favorably disposed towards lawyers who join and participate in their business and trade groups.  They also create relationships with lawyers who join and participate in their civic and community groups.  Information about which groups general counsel belong to is easily discovered with a Google search.

 

“At the City, we have a positive attitude to those who contribute their time and talents to public and non-profit boards and commissions,” said Fine.  “It is certainly not the only factor when we choose outside counsel, but it does raise you in our esteem.”

 

When in need of outside counsel, general counsel often ask peers in organizations like ACC for referrals.  At one time, a referral alone was sufficient.

 

Today, however, general counsel will Google the name of a referred lawyer before they make that phone call.  “It really irritates me when a lawyer’s bio or profile is cursory or lacking in detail – and doesn’t indicate industry experience and include links to work samples,” said Scalpone.

 

All five general counsel agreed that Google searches and a robust online presence have essentially replaced legal guides and directories when it comes time to look for outside counsel in a particular area -- or validate a referral.

 

 

Why do general counsel “fire” outside counsel?

 

“One of my pet peeves is when outside counsel do not keep up with developments in my industry,” said Robertson.  “They should be as on top of these changes as I am.  I should not have to waste my time bringing outside counsel up to speed on new developments.

 

“Also, we are in a pretty geeky line of business,” said Robertson.  “If you are going to charge me $400 an hour, you better have a handle on current technology.”

 

“If you don’t know the difference between a fax and a PDF,” said Miller, “I will not be happy.  We will choose to work with a talented associate who has better tech skills over mature partner who doesn’t know how to communicate with us.”

 

Each panelist mentioned dissatisfaction with outside law firms that roll out the red carpet to get their work, and then lose enthusiasm after they have been working with the client for a while.  “When they want our work, we have their complete attention,” said Miller.  “Once they have our work, they tend to rest on their laurels.  Don’t take advantage.”

 

Lack of responsiveness was also mentioned as a negative trait in outside law firms.  “When I contact you, I want to hear from you as soon as possible,” said Robertson.  “Immediate is perfect.  Two hours is great.  Longer than 24 hours is not acceptable.”

 

 

How do you nurture a productive relationship with general counsel?

 

“We expect that outside counsel will know our business and industry as well as we do,” said Scalpone.  “We want to work with a firm where even the associates read The Wall Street Journal every day to keep up with developments in our industry.”

 

Liking outside counsel is not as important for one-time, bet-the-company work as it is for long-term relationships.  “When you are the only one who can help us, we don’t have to like you all that much as long as you solve our problem,” said Robertson.  “But for a productive long-term relationship, a positive personal relationship is very important.”

 

“I don’t need to have a close personal relationship with my outside counsel,” said Fine.  “I really don’t want to play golf with them or see them outside the office.  But I do want to have a good professional relationship with them.

 

“Because of budget cuts, the City has reduced money for training,” said Fine.  “Show that you value our professional relationship by presenting a free seminar to the lawyers in my department.  Help us do our jobs better.  Never take the relationship for granted.”

 

“We work with an outside law firm for employment matters,” said Miller.  “From time to time, those lawyers provide an onsite employment law update – and also provide a very nice lunch!  That kind of service is truly appreciated by my company.”

 

What do general counsel want from outside counsel?  “It is very simple,” said Askew.  Legal expertise is the bare minimum.  We want outside counsel who also respect our budgets, deadlines and communication styles.  We want outside counsel who know our businesses.  We want outside counsel, in short, who define their success as our success."

 

To download the file:

Panelists tackle the perennial question:  What do general counsel want?

 

Never let a client leave with asking "why"

A couple we know started buying season subscriptions to repertory productions of the Denver Center Theater Company nearly 30 years ago -- and has resubscribed every season since.  For the past ten years, our "theater group" has grown to include five couples buying season tickets. 

When the entire group did not renew this year, our 30-year member (and group coordinator) got a call asking if we were going to resubscribe.  She said no, and that was it.  There was never a follow-up question or call to find out why -- and what the DCTC could do to change our minds.  We were a good source of revenues.  How could they not, especially in these tough ecomonic times, try to find out why we would change our minds -- after 30 years of loyalty -- and use this information to improve their product and service?

Unbelieveable.

If they'd asked, we'd have provided a good answer.  For the past five years, we have been trying to get the DCTC to work on how they schedule the plays.  Every year, we get tickets for three Saturdays in a row -- and then nothing for two months.  Couldn't they perhaps space them out better?  For five years, the DCTC has said they cannot.  Too bad.  It is just too much work for subscribers to go out to dinner as a group and then to the theater three weekends in a row.

We've come up with a solution that works well for our group -- but not for the DCTC.  Five couples, ten individuals, ten months of the year (with two months off).  Each person is assigned a month to come up with an interesting cultural activity on the third Saturday of the month (so we can plan).

This summer, we are traveling to The Santa Fe Opera to hear Natalie Dessay in her debut as Violetta in La Traviata.  Locally, we will attend the Denver Art Museum's exhibition of The Psychedelic Experience (art from the Sixties) and a Broadway touring production of August: Osage County at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Our tired old theater group has been reenergized as a "culture club."  Remember, your seemingly loyal clients always have a choice.

Canadian law firms using clients service standards to set themselves apart

When it comes right down to it, client service is the quality many clients use to distinguish one law firm from another.  To keep their clients happy and to differentiate themselves from the competition, an increasing number of market-savvy law firms are creating, implementing and marketing formal client service standards.  In this December 2006 article, commissioned by the Canadian Bar Association, Janet Ellen Raasch discusses ways in which progressive Canadian law firms are creating and using client service standards.

Canadian law firms using client service sgtandards to set themselves apart

Sidebar:  Basic client service standards

Don't be an ostrich: Ask general counsel, "How're we doing?"

If you think that most of your clients are satisfied, think again.  Research shows that law firms consistently rank themselves much more successful at client satisfaction than their clients do.  The only way to know what your clients are thinking is to ask them.  In this October 2008 article, consultant Martha Cusick Eddy discusses the results of more than 100 interviews she has conducted with in-house counsel.

Don't be an ostrich:  Ask general counsel, "How're we doing?"

Fast? Good? Cheap? What inside counsel want from their outside law firms

There's a maxim in commerce:  You can get it fast, you can get it good, you can get it cheap -- pick any two.  The same maxim can be applied to legal services.  In this January 2005 article, in-house counsel from four Denver companies discuss their "fast, good, cheap" expectations when dealing with outside counsel.

Fast? Good? Cheap? What inside counsel want from their outside law firms