Last month I attended the Legal Marketing Association annual meeting, two days of presentations on how lawyers and firms can better market their services and grow their practices. The highlight of the conference was the in-house panel, which this year featured Vince Cordo, Global Sourcing Officer at Shell, Matt Fawcett, General Counsel of NetApp, and Paul Drummond, Senior Legal Counsel at AT&T. Elizabeth Duffy of research firm Acritas led the discussion.
Here's what I learned:
1. Value matters.
Although the panelists agreed that there was no one, standard, definition of "value," they all made it clear that they look to their outside lawyers to bring some form of value to the relationship, such as helping the company meet certain financial objectives, moving the stock price, efficiently resolving problems, anticipating legal issues, and more. The challenge for firms then becomes figuring out how each individual clients defines "value," and providing that.
2. Feedback matters.
The in-house panelists all agreed that they wished their lawyers did more surveys. They felt firms miss out on an important opportunity to improve the relationship, to learn what their clients don't like and stop doing it, when they don't seek out more feedback from clients. What's more, they made it clear that have things to say – about delivery of service, about skill sets, about how we can make them happy – that they not telling us simply because we don't ask.
"We don't hire lawyers. We hire law firms."
3. Teamwork matters.
This was perhaps the most surprising thing to hear, because the idea that clients hire firms, not individual lawyers, flies in the face of what we've been told about the importance of personal relationships in the legal industry. It's important to note that their point was not that they do not expect strong rapport between the in-house and outside counsel; rather, that they give work to firms based on bench strength, on the breadth and scope of skills, on creating and maintaining an environment where everyone contributes and gets credit for their work.
4. Fees matter.
Although Paul Drummond told the audience that efficiency is often more important than price, going as far as to say that price is "irrelevant [and] independent of expertise, quality," and other factors, the panelists made it clear that cost continues to be a factor in evaluating the performance of outside counsel. And it was equally clear that the companies on the panel are pushing back harder on certain types of fees to restore balance, to move from a place where legal costs are based on the law firm's perception of value rather than that of the client.
"Law firms call them 'alternative fee arrangements.' We call them 'appropriate fee arrangements'"
5. Metrics matter.
The panelists made it clear that clients – now more than ever – are using metrics and data to drive efficiencies and cost-savings. They're all looking at a broad range of data points when evaluating law firm performance, trend that appears to be here to stay. The good news is that they're not shy about telling law firms what they're doing: all you need to do is ask. The better news is, according to Matt Fawcett, the competition hasn't started asking yet…
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So what can you learn from the in-house panelists at this year's LMA conference? That your client is probably more than happy to tell you how you can make her happy. You just need to ask.