July 2014

Regular readers know that Jeff Carr, the General Counsel of FMC Technologies, is my mentor, my client and my friend.  Our relationship evolved in that order.  I am very proud of each of these steps in the growth of our personal relationship–anytime you can develop a strong friendship with someone who is smart, ethical, funny, comfortable challenging orthodoxy when needed and an all around great guy, you have to count yourself fortunate.  Jeff announced yesterday that he is retiring from his position as General Counsel of FMC Technologies as of August 1.

Jeff’s relationship with management is strong and they did not seek his departure. He is in good health. His family is terrific.  It’s just a good time in life to take some time to travel, relax and think about the future.  And he is in the position to do these things.  Not everyone is, and I know he feels blessed to be in that position and is looking forward to the future with a sense of excitement.

Those who know Jeff best know that he is not a guy preoccupied with the rear-view mirror. He lives looking forward.  I don’t know what “the next phase” will be.  I don’t believe Jeff does either.  Perhaps he gave a hint of where he might go in a recent interview in Forbes:

Parnell: If you were to leave FMC Technologies today, what would you do?

Carr: I’d go to the beach with my wife and we’d relax and travel.  Then, I’d write my book about how to run a high performance legal team, and I’d focus on my other passions: racing cars and jazz piano.  But I’d probably get bored and want to get back in the game—perhaps not in another GC role, but from a completely different platform.  I would ask each CEO I could meet to “Tell me what your legal spend has been for the last 5 years.”  I’d then look them straight in the eye and say, “I will do all of your legal work for you at 80% of what your average spend has been. And of that 80%, you only pay me 80%, and then you give me a report card on performance and link that to payment of 0-200% of the hold back.  With that upside/downside approach, ultimately I will make 80-120% of what I bill you. In your worst case scenario, you will pay me exactly what you have been paying on average for the last five years. But you would only do that if you were absolutely delighted.”

How can I do that? I am absolutely convinced that there is enough inefficiency in the way that [companies are] currently providing or accessing the legal system that we can eliminate that. And over time, we can drive year over year performance gains by focusing on prevention as opposed to focusing on reaction.

Having worked so closely with Jeff over the years, I am confident that such a business endeavor would be hugely successful.  But perhaps while sitting on a beach somewhere in the world listening to Jimmy Buffet, Jeff might be inspired in some other way.  Whatever “the next phase” might be, I know it will be both successful and a challenge to the orthodoxy of the legal system.

It has been a great honor to be one of Jeff’s lawyers, and an even greater one to become his friend.  I look forward to continuing our discussions about challenging the profession to be better than it is, and challenging law departments to do more as well.  Congratulations on a job well done, my friend.  Relax, enjoy the world.  And when Marie finally can’t take you being home so much, let’s find something fun to do!

Aric Press of American Lawyer penned a terrific article, What the Rise of Pricing Officers Says About Big Law’s Future.  The article, reflecting the results of a recent survey, offers some great insights into the move to non-hourly billing at the largest law firms.  One result was disappointing, though not surprising:

Value is harder. We don’t have a definition. We barely have a concept. And we surely don’t have the essential building block: trust. As part of the survey, we asked pricing officers whether clients insisted on “tracking shadow hours” performed by firms so they could be certain they weren’t getting the short end of the deal. Only 13 percent responded, “Not usually.” And none answered, “Never.”

The problem with shadow hours is that they are used to judge “value” by comparison to what the client would have paid if billing had been based on an hourly basis.  One of the primary purposes of alternative fees, however, is to eliminate time as a measure of value provided. If clients insist on continuing this measure, they will miss the true value of alternative fees provide.
I write more about shadow billing in my soon-to-be-published book, Alternative Fees for Litigation Lawyers and their Clients.