What Do General Counsel Want?

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.
It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”          Peter Drucker

At the recent annual meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel, general counsel from companies of all sizes discussed how they are selecting, evaluating and managing outside counsel.  A recent article discussing the highlights was posted last week in The National Law Journal.  The article focused on a few key areas, with the first being “flex time.”  Once major retailer is looking for law firms that offer firm employees flex time.  Now why would a retailer care if the law firms they retain offer flex time?  What do they get out of that?  I doubt it’s really because they want to make the world a better place for working moms.  More likely they are looking to retain firms that make them look good for promoting women’s causes. 

So what is my take-away from the article given that the lead in piece has nothing to do with legal services?  It’s not just about the money.  Once you get beyond the qualification check list, the distinguishing factor comes down to customer service and a desire to make in-house counsel’s job easier (hence, the possibly politically motivated  flex time requirement to take some heat off women discrimination issues).  So basically, the standard firm brochures setting out the firm’s qualifications and successful legal results is really missing the point.  I’m not saying that qualifications and results don’t matter.  I’m saying that is just what gets you to the door.  To win and keep the business it is about your firm’s willingness go crazy over customer service.  Better communication on service activities so they remain well informed.  Better reporting to make their reporting easier.  Better administrative processes to make case management and evaluation easier.  More predictable case results as a result of better communication.  More predictable costs so in-house counsel isn’t caught by surprise and left having to explain budget overruns.  And to address that pesky cost cutting issue, a willingness on the part of the law firm to find creative ways to deliver services that cut legal costs while enabling the law firm to operate comfortably. 

Despite the cost crunch, there is still a lot of legal business out there to be serviced.  Those law firms willing to break the mold and move into fanatical customer service mode are the firms that will get and keep the business.  Law firms that hold on to the old traditional law firm structure will be left in the dust.  Hammer or broom…  Choose your weapon.