What General Counsel Expect from Law Firms

Len PovichAt the Marketing Partner Forum in Phoenix, two corporate general counsel described what they want from law firms in terms of innovation and a good "customer experience. " Here are the highlights:

"I hire lawyers, I don't hire law firms," said Seth Rodner, Executive VP and General Counsel of Medicis Corporation in Scottsdale, AZ. "I want to know I've got a lawyer who's personally engaged in helping me through the issue I've got."

"I want the lawyers to look at things from my perspective. Lawyers who can look at things from my point of view are going to be successful, regardless of how wicked smart they are," said Lon Povich, General Counsel of BJs Wholesale Club.

An example of a good experience Rodner had involved a law firm associate.

"One of our regulatory lawyers in DC suggested that he could bring value and synergies to my law department and company if he were to volunteer a mid-level associate to be embedded with us for six months, which turned into a year. This is called is 'secondment.' We worked out a very reasonable fee arrangement for that. It was a chance for his firm to acquire institutional knowledge about us and plow it back into the relationship.

"She went above and beyond and built professional relationships in the law department and on the business side and became a productive part of the team. We ended up hiring her as our new compliance officer.  It's a success story on a number of levels. They have expanded their business with us to the tune of millions of dollars," Rodner said.

"Volunteering education to me and my team is very valuable," Povich said. One of the firms he uses sent three lawyers to the company to update them on legal issues that affected them. "I like to receive content from a law firm in-person, a little personal CLE."

Neither in-house lawyer like law firm alerts.  "I want a one-paragraph email, not a glossy newsletter," Rodner said. "There have only been a couple of times that the first firm that sent me an alert told me something I hadn't already heard."

A good experience Povich had with a lawyer came in a cold call. "I got an got an unsolicited email from a lawyer who clearly addressed the emotional impact of a patent dispute on us, clearly addressed the legal issues, and came up with a plan to make the most efficient way to handle our patent, which was being challenged. It was the only time I jumped on a cold call because he specifically addressed my needs," Povich said. 

"If you're going to set up a meeting with me, don't bring six partners and tell me everything you do. I only want to see one person to pitch me about how you're going to handle the matter that's before me," Rodner said. 

"There is no substitute for competence at the highest level, because I'm judged by the outcome of our legal issues. That being said, if I'm going to spend a lot of time with an outside lawyer, it's very difficult if they're not a likable person.  They have to be somebody I want to work with. Personality does matter.  As for being schmoozed, I'm happy to go to a sporting event with somebody I know. But at some level I consider it work and I'm not going to accept all of the invitations," Povich said.

"Beyond competence, interpersonal skills are enormously important," Rodner said. "When we hire a law firm, I don't have time to hold their hand during the entire process, and I have to turn the lawyer loose on the organization. I can't have them torching all my relationships along the way and creating an impression of the legal department as a bull in a china shop," Rodner said. 

Asked what bad experiences he has had with law firms, Povich said, "Manifest inefficiencies that lead to a higher cost are bad.  If I see a bill that shows 15 hours of associate time, memo writing and LexisNexis research -- and I never got a memo or got any value from that -- this will be bad for the relationship."

"If I meet the rainmaker and then get handed off to a junior person, I don't want to be the guy who is sacrificed. I want the lawyer that I hired. If there is lack of ownership of the relationship by the lawyer, I don't like it," Rodner said. 

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Kirsten Hodgson - January 20, 2011 6:19 PM

Hi Larry,

Great post and very much in line with feedback we're getting from law firm clients here in New Zealand - it was actually the topic of our last blog post - http://kscopemarketing.wordpress.com

This creates huge opportunities for lawyers who can DEMONSTRATE that they are the right person for the deal/matter/case/project.

Jerome Kowalski - January 25, 2011 6:50 PM

Yes, excellent post, Larry. We've been hearing the same complaints about turgid, prolix and stale alerts for at least a year. Yet, properly done, client alerts and bulletins do serve a useful and productive purpose: http://kowalskiandassociatesblog.com/2010/04/22/client-alerts-and-bulletins/

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