LMA Tech’s annual in-house counsel panel is always one of the biggest draws of the conference, and this year was no different. Last week’s discussion in San Francisco, moderated as always by Nat Slavin of Wicker Park Group, could be called the “one-size-fits-one” lesson. However, I’ve dubbed it the “come-to-Jesus” panel. Repent of your sins, outside counsel, and sin no more.
The panel consisted of tech-company general counsel, Michael R. Haven, Senior Corporate Counsel Legal Operations and Litigation at NetApp; Olga Mack, Head of Legal at ClearSlide ; Sharon Segev, VP of Corporate Development & General Counsel at Elo Touch Solutions; and Alexandra Sepulveda, Deputy General Counsel at Udemy.
Beyond the panelist’s tips and advice came a fair portion devoted to horror stories involving various errors by outside counsel. As Sepulveda commented, “How is it we are still having the same conversation about how to get personalized pragmatic advice?”
One running theme for these tech-savvy in-house counsel is that outside firms must use the billing and tech management software their clients use. It is the firm that should adapt and adopt, not the client.
Each in-house counsel said that excellence and understanding a client’s business will only get a firm in the door. In other words, it is expected, and not the exceptional. NetApp’s Michael Haven said the differentiators are:
Haven drove the point home by commenting that “we want e-billing, so we can derive metrics. We would love to see them firms giving us metrics about their own business, and showing us how they are working more efficiently for us.”
Each panelist said they want hours and bills updated daily or three days at the latest. Haven likes ViewaBill, which allows him to see daily expenses. Serengeti also received high marks. “I can’t endure the expense of waiting for bill and then trying to mitigate the damage.” In other words, avoid surprises at all costs.
Haven says about 150 firms have adopted ViewaBill. “We see only our matters in real time. I can see what my firm billed me yesterday on a matter,” he said. Such software avoids nightmares that could cost a firm its slot on the outside counsel panel.
Olga Mack told of one patent matter which came in $500,000 over budget. As she went back through the bills, she discovered the law firm had increased its rates 15% Jan. 1, in the middle of the project, and never informed her. The firm lost its place on her panel almost immediately.
In addition to billing issues, there are technology habits within law firms that drive tech company GCs crazy. An enormous pet peeve is attorneys and firms that won’t use electronic signatures. Nearly all tech firms strive for paperless offices, and demanding inked hard copies is SOOO 20th century. Emails with “FYI” in a subject line are equally hated. In-house counsel want timely information they can scan immediately, with email subheadings such as “EVENT,” “IMPORTANCE,” and “ACTION” to be TAKEN.”
Tech GCs want quick-and-dirty answer in hours. They will wait longer for more complicated questions, but want to know their attorney is on it by acknowledging their email. A reply within 24 hours is ideal; three days is the outer limit. If attorneys can comply, in-house promise they won’t stage “fire drills” for information they don’t need immediately.
Mack also said she immediately judges an attorney on the quality, both the writing and content, of an attorney’s client alerts, as well as what’s on social media, such as LinkedIn and elsewhere. “I make an immediate judgment as to do I want to meet this person, and do I find this useful. I admit it is a bit like judging a book by its cover.” See her recent LinkedIn post on “The Art and Science of Being Useful to In-House Counsel.”
Additionally, more in-house counsel are now on Facebook and Twitter, not just LinkedIn.
Equally important are attorney bios, where in-house counsel typically start their research. 78% of general counsel use bios when choosing outside counsel.
Internally, in-house counsel share information about various attorneys and firms. A lot. Haven, who manages a global team of 80, says NetApp has “our own little version of FaceBook that we use internally. We collaborate on how we are dealing with outside partners, and discuss the pros and cons of certain partners.”
Regarding maintaining a strong relationship with a client, these panelists said they are amazed more firms don’t ask for 360 reviews of how the firm is doing.
In summary, here are the takeaway themes:
It has to be spot-on experience to get hired. It used to be OK to have general experience and good service, but now that’s just a gating issue.
Unless someone is on vacation, responding within 24 hours is the low bar. GCs expect outside counsel to at least communicate that you got the email even if you can’t do anything right now.
Get in Our Shoes and Stay There
If you are going to be a very effective advocate for the client, you need to understand what they do, how they make money, and what risks they face. Then your approach is more tailored to their goal.
What started as a modest group of pricing people 2 years ago (I believe it was five of us) has grown now to about 200 people. The group is now comprised of pricing and project management people with a wide variety of titles and roles. Some in the group are strictly in these roles. Others have dual roles, such as CFO and pricing.
When we started this group we outlined three primary goals. #1 is professional development. Most programs on pricing, alternative fees or project management are basic and directed at just getting people to embrace the ideas (and are usually taught by people from this group). So finding opportunities to extend our own knowledge is quite limited. The second goal is developing a knowledge-base of best practices. And the third goal is driving the development of products and services that meet are ever changing needs.
In order to meet these goals we decided to create a conference built around them. The result is the upcoming P3 Conference. P3 stands for Pricing, Practice Innovation and Project Management. The conference is being held in Chicago (to make it relatively easily reachable) on September 30th – October 2nd. The sessions will include the best in the world from law firms and in-house legal departments. The programs will include roundtable discussions, with experts discussing how they tackle problems, debating various approaches and methods. The content will be decidedly advanced. No one will be trying to convince people pricing and project management are good ideas. Instead we will be discussing in-the-trenches experiences and lessons learned. This is all directed at meeting goal #1.
Additionally we will have directed feedback sessions involving companies that are providing and developing cutting edge tools and services. These sessions will explore product offerings with an eye towards what is in development. Attendees will give their feedback on what they like and what they need. These sessions are focused on Goal #3.
The programs on Oct 2nd will cover a variety of topics, including numerous best practices – meeting Goal #2.
So … if you are involved in pricing, practice innovation or project management at your firm or in-house legal department, or if you just want to hear from the best in the industry on these topics, you will want to attend this conference. It will be a unique experience sharing some valuable ideas among some really great people.
I will add – registration is limited. This is not your usual marketing ploy to fill up seats. Given the relatively short notice for a conference and the desire to hold it in this time frame, we ended up with limited space. We plan to correct that for next year, however, this year space actually is limited. So if you want to attend, I highly recommend you register early.
I look forward to seeing many of our readers there.
PS: I would be remiss in not mentioning the support of the LMA in driving this conference. As noted above, this is being done on short notice, but the LMA Team is working hard to make this happen and they are doing it in style.
PPS: I would also be remiss in not thanking those on the Planning Committee: John Strange at Vinson & Elkins is the Chair. Kristina Lambright at Akin Gump, Purvi Sanghvi at Patterson Belknap and Tim Corcoran the President-Elect of LMA and consultant with Corcoran Consulting Group.