Originally Published in Huffington Post Blog | November 22, 2013 | By Paul Mandell
From alternative fee arrangements to outcome-based billing to increased reliance on legal support software, there seems to be no shortage of new ways for senior in-house attorneys to maximize their law firm relationships. However, one fundamental strategy that consistently seems to yield the highest ROI may be the least innovative or complex of the bunch, which is simply the pursuit of better communication.
Assuming that the work of outside counsel is of sufficient quality, most in-house frustration with law firms seems to stem from poor communication. Communication between client and law firm is critical, helping not only to align expectations but to share learning and leverage efficiencies. By pursuing methods for improved communication, both in house counsel and their outside lawyers have a great opportunity for significant mutual benefit.
At a recent Consero event for Chief Litigation Officers of large companies, Jonah Paransky of LexisNexis CounselLink, Joseph Catalano of Union Bank, Joseph Heyd of Procter & Gamble, Katrina Lindsey of Darden Restaurants, and Matthew Miller of Groupon led a panel discussion that framed this issue well, and which provided what I viewed as one of the more creative, efficient solutions to the communication problem that I have encountered: The client-led Outside Counsel Retreat.
The gist of the retreat is remarkably simple. In short, the concept involves in-house counsel inviting all of their law firm contacts to come together with them for a retreat. Among the topics for discussion at the retreat are explicit client expectations regarding administrative and substantive needs, current and looming legal issues, and a recap of experience addressing legal issues in the recent past.
An obvious benefit to such a gathering is the client’s ability to set clear administrative expectations and more substantive interests and needs with all outside counsel at once and in a uniform way. This is particularly important when engaged with a large number of outside counsel, given that it is easier inadvertently to leave one more firms out of the loop.
A less obvious but equally important benefit to the Outside Counsel Retreat is that it forces the law firms to share with one another what they have learned while representing the company. One firm may have deep insight into what strategies work or do not work in different judicial forums or markets, as well as what trends they see that could impact the business. Sharing this learning among all counsel who represent the company is truly invaluable.
At first blush, such an event for outside counsel may seem like a bad idea. After all, bringing together a bunch of lawyers with high billing rates is not inexpensive. It could also be awkward–particularly if the firms are interested in pursuing more of the client’s business. However, given the benefits of ensuring that your law firms share your vision and expectations, and share knowledge that could make each other more efficient and in tune with best practices for representing the client, the investment may be well worth it.