Another of my all-time favorite conference sessions at LMA is always the client panel.  For me, the panel always makes the investment in the conference worth it, because I can impart what I learn from the GCs there to my lawyers, to help them to understand their own clients better, and that adds value for everyone. 

This year’s client panel didn’t disappoint. It focused on best practices for building and maintaining your law firm’s relationship with in-house counsel and featured Megan Belcher, the VP and Chief Employment Counsel for ConAgra, Kevin Schubert, the Associate General Counsel, Transactions for LV Sands Corporation, Simon Manoucherian, the Assistance General Counsel/Director of Litigation GRIFOLS, and Karen Cottle, Senior Counsel for Sidley Austin and former in-house counsel. The panel was moderated by Inside Counsel magazine. 

The panelists said that they would discuss the role of social media for general counsel, the challenges that they see over the next five years, and the change in inside/outside counsel relationships since 2008.  Since the economic downturn, GCs have changed the way that they evaluate outside counsel, and the process by which trust is built. 

 

 

In terms of social media, the moderators announced that the latest New Media for Inside Counsel survey results would be released the following week, by Greentarget, Inside Counsel, and Zeughauser Group. The survey shows, and the panelists reinforced, that new media is impacting the way that in-house counsel review the credentials of outside counsel. 

Some of the results from the survey (which we discussed in more depth here) included: 

  • 67% of counsel have used LinkedIn for professional reasons in the last week. 
  • Though Wikipedia was scorned in a professional setting just a few years ago, now, 50% of in-house counsel report using it weekly. 
  • 46% of counsel are using blogs on a weekly basis for professional reasons. 

Schubert said that he uses blogs to vet issues before he goes to outside counsel, so that he has a better understanding of them. He noted that blogs allow you to go to question & answer forums and dig into an issue, so that you can then limit the scope of the search that you need outside counsel to do (thus saving costs). 

Manoucherian said that he uses blogs for the same reasons, but went further to say that he also uses them to vet counsel. He likes to look at both text and video blogs to see if an attorney can speak on the issues. The panelists agreed that they wouldn’t hire a firm or attorney based solely on their social media presence, but blogs and LinkedIn are the best way to consolidate information. In-house counsel are inundated by information, so any way that firms can offer a concise compendium  is a great marketing tool. To them, social media demonstrates a willingness to educated and experience in the field, which will weigh in favor of the firm. 

Belcher added that she appreciates when a blogger includes relevant links at the end of a blog post to direct her to additional information. That gives her the ability to get more in-depth if she wants to. 

The panelists admitted that social media allows them to do a lot more background searching than they were able to do in the past. Not only are they researching issues this way, but they also look to social media to show them who the real experts in the field are. Cottle added that social media also helps GCs to get to know a lawyer before they meet them in person, though she added that there is no substitute for the personal relationship when hiring lawyers. 

They were equally passionate about the question of cross-selling, agreeing that when a firm brings in a team of 20 lawyers to pitch all of their services, this isn’t effective – trust must be built first. In-house counsel are looking to hire lawyers that they can have a relationship with, not just your partner. So for the same reason, mass blasts of cross-selling emails are not appreciated either. 

Law firm gaffes are not just limited to cross-selling though, according to the panel. They said that there’s a big disconnect with the great marketing tools that law firms use – such as email blasts and webinars – and what they use when they want to earn a company’s business – brochures. Inside counsel go to the internet when they want to hire someone – that’s how they get to know you. They don’t want print information, like brochures. Brochures do not build relationships. 

Timeliness is also very important to GCs – in email blasts about law changes, they want to see these immediately, not a week later.  They also read the Wall Street Journal, so they do notice the lag in time. 

Video blogs are also of interest to inside counsel – these can be a cost-effective tool for GCs because it costs them nothing. The panelists mentioned Arent Fox as a firm that is doing a great job with video. Manoucherian said that when lawyers role-play situations and keep them short (3-8 minutes, 10 minutes maximum), video can be great and fun.  

The panelists feel that a lot of firms are also using webinars very effectively, if they’re timely on changes in the law and new issues. Schubert noted that he’ll usually watch the first webinar that comes up on an issue, so timeliness is very important. Webinars are also helpful to busy in-house counsel because it means they don’t have to leave their desks. One of the panelists commented that he’s reached out to lawyers who have presented on issues in webinars, to engage them in conversation around that issue. 

Another point of contention for the panelists was about expertise – while there are a lot of smart lawyers who can get up to speed on an issue, the panelists emphasized that if a lawyer really doesn’t have the expertise, they shouldn’t lie about it. Honesty means more. 

Outside counsel are also making missteps when first meeting GCs – they think that they can go right from the introduction to "go-to counsel" in one step. This creates problems. Manoucherian said that he often attends events where he’s treated like chum in the water, and outside counsel are sharks attacking him.  GCs don’t want outside counsel to go right from discussing an issue to "here are my rates, you need to hire me." One of the panelists said that it’s "obnoxious." 

Schubert said that in-house counsel expect more of a test period, and a ramp-up phase before jumping into taking full responsibility with a firm. So firms need to be expecting this test period before they develop a full relationship with a new client. Schubert added that in-house counsel want to give firms small matters first to test the waters before giving them big business – this also helps them to get a sense of how the firm treats costs. Seeing how a firm budgets and tailors responses on the small matters can influence whether a company will give them more business. 

Cottle said that they’re looking for firms who can be true partners and have the expertise – and they’re willing to hire multiple law firms to get the best lawyer. She added that while some lawyers understand this, there are still many who don’t see that there has been a shift in the role of GCs and in-house lawyers to strategic business partners. So firms need to understand the business, the outcomes and the business solution that companies need, not just the legal solution. As we’ve heard time and time again, it’s the job of outside counsel to make in-house counsel look good. 

And when it comes to fees? Cottle warns that outside counsel shouldn’t just react to GCs asking for alternative fees. They need to be more proactive in order to achieve value objectives. It’s not that GCs want the firm not to be profitable, it’s that they want predictability and value. She emphasized that it’s imperative for firms to come up with these pricing models, because they’re the ones who understand their own financials. 

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There’s a lot of meaty information in this session, so I’ll continue tomorrow with the second part of the recap!