In order to gain a deeper understanding of the business of law so we can better advise our law firm clients and understand trends in the industry, my partner, Joe, and I surveyed general counsels and senior in-house lawyers located in Alabama about elements of their interactions with the law firms that assist them. After the survey results were in and analyzed, we met with ten of the 32 respondents in person to get further feedback from them on the survey questions. What we learned was invaluable – hopefully to our clients but also to us as service providers.
The responses to two questions were the most telling. First, we asked what factors contribute most to not rehiring outside counsel? Very few said that a key lawyer’s departure from their chosen outside firm would be reason enough to not rehire the firm. Surprisingly, expense was also rated as not as important. Rather, poor service and poor advice were the primary reasons for choosing new counsel.
Given this information, we asked GCs in our interviews if their outside counsel checked in with them regularly or surveyed them to determine if they were getting good service and advice from the law firm. They said “rarely”. A 2012 ALM survey echoed this response, finding that only 56% of law firm respondents reported that their firm has a plan in place to measure, track and build client satisfaction and loyalty.
The GCs we met with said they would welcome genuine inquiries from their law firms as to how matters and relationships were going. They were less interested in social lunch or dinners with outside counsel, not because they did not value those relationship, but their time was scarce and most would prefer to spend spare time on family or other personal interests. Rather, they said a well-thought out discussion on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities would be ideal.
They also said they would be very receptive to (but seldom received) inquiries from outside counsel as to how outside counsel could help them solve their business problems or as to whether there were other areas in which the law firms could assist the GCs. For instance, one GC suggested that outside counsel provide video learning modules in their practice areas for the company’s on-line employee university – gratis.