Lawyer, Know Thy Client

Posted on October 30, 2019 by Joseph Lamport

This week I finally had a chance to catch up with Wendy King, a managing director at FTI Consulting, about the recently released General Counsel Report that was produced as a joint effort of FTI and Relativity. While the major focus of the white paper is to examine the changing role of the general counsel in today's corporation, at the same time it casts some interesting light on the consequent changes that is bringing about in the relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel.  You can download a copy of the Report here.  

The primary conclusion of the Report is that in recent years the GC's role has been morphing within the C-Suite, expanding beyond a gatekeeper function to assume greater responsiblity as a business strategist. Instead of being viewed as a cost-center which must be managed in order to minimize the cost of legal exposure, the law department today is expected to play a far more pro-active role, helping to steer overall corporate policy, taking necessary measures to mitigate risk, and establish a culture of compliance.  Instead of sitting back and waiting for lawsuits to happen, the GC today looks to be more deeply embedded throughout the corporation in order to anticipate and come up with solutions before a complaint gets filed. The heightened need for regulatory compliance on data privacy and security issues turns out to be a key driver that necessitates the GC's more pro-active role.

As Wendy King explains, "We see the need for the GC's partnership with outside counsel will continue to evolve and change as the GC's role itself is changing."  The most significant development seems to be an expectation that outside counsel will likewise step up and do a better job of understanding the client's business.  It's time to get in bed with the embedders, you could say.

The Report found that more GC's are focused on this as their top priority in dealing with outside counsel than any other issue, seeing it as even more important than the GC's usual preoccupation with cost-containment.  In fact, 66% of the GC's surveyed said that their most important recommendation to outside counsel was "to know my business better", compared to the 53% who identified the willingness to consider alternative billing arrangements as their top priority.

So the major takeaway here for law firms is pretty simple: lawyer, know thy client. This is a bit of proverbial and free advice that clients are offering to their outside counsel, according to the Report.  And how should law firms go about the task.  Well, let me leave you with a couple suggestions served up by GC's interviewed in the survey which might help you get started with the task:

'An early-stage technique is to spend non-billable time with the client before you need to.  "Get in there when things are calm and get to know your client, especially the client's IT department and how it is structured, because when a crisis hits, no one has time to understand that," one general counsel recommended.'

'One lawyer suggested that law firms rethink their entire approach. "I want them to disrupt their own business model because I am going to increasingly do that if they don't" the individual remarked.  "Most of them don't discuss basic project management, never mind appplying technological solutions to our issues, and want to manage the whole bundle, including e-discovery; they don't understand that the client is better served if that bundle is disaggregated."

And so on.  There's lots more in the Report that makes it worthwhile reading for the law firm marketing team.

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