My Valorem colleagues and I are honored to have been named to the 2017 BTI Client Service A-Team.   This is our fifth consecutive year to have been named to the A-Team.

BTI’s identified the firms awarded this distinction based on over 330 in-depth interviews of General Counsels, direct reports to GCs and other key decision makers from organizations with average revenue of $13.8 billion and median revenue of $4.9 billion.

Valorem was recognized by clients in the following categories:

Commitment to Help

Client Focus

Providing Value for the Dollar

Meets Core Scope

Handles Problems

Helps Advise on Business Issues

Innovative Approach

This recognition validates the efforts we have been making to provide a level of client service that distinguishes us from others, and we are humbled by the recognition from our clients.  We will continue to strive to be worthy of this recognition.

Valorem Law Group recently surveyed in-house counsel.  A huge thank-you to the 42 in-house lawyers who responded.

The question we asked was:

When making a decision to hire a law firm to handle a litigation matter that is NOT bet-the-company, which of the following values are the most important to you? (Please rank in order of importance, with and 13 being the least important).

Here are the results:

Survey Results













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We also received a number of helpful comments:

Since I’m in the patent space, the technical competence of the attorneys assigned. Additionally, firm diversity in the leadership is a consideration. Both are of high importance.

The ability to control costs or enter into alternative fee arrangements and the importance placed on those are case dependent. More important in smaller matters and less important in bet the company matters.

High – ensuring that in-house counsel is aware of any concerns that employees may bring to the attention of outside

The firm’s historical relationship with the company. (middle)

Just a comment. It strikes me that the order of importance changes depending on the case. Geography, for example, may be important in one case and not another.

I struggled to rank all of these items, because I have several “1’s” — and all of them are essential to a firm selection decision and I’d not want to compromise on any.

Language abilities would be high depending on client and geography

Diversity of the firm and the team proposed to handle the matter

Whether the lawyer/team is “known” to us–either through a first-hand recommendation/review by someone we trust, or through our prior dealings with the lawyer/team. (High) 2. The lawyer’s/team’s experience on a particular claim or legal issue–moving through the bulk of the learning curve, knowing the “market” for settlement values, understanding the underlying issues that become a fulcrum for settlement, etc. I suppose it’s a combination of “reputation” and “ability to achieve desired results” and “experience/quality”. (High)

I like to hire lawyers not firms

Quality of work product (high)

Once again, thank you to all who participated.

Ronald Reagan once famously said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”  His quote tapped into our natural fear of both the government and unsolicited offers to help.  When someone offers help, most believe the person is really offering to help themselves.

This fear should be juxtaposed with the admiration we sometimes have for those who engage in self-help. Our lexicon contains many phrases in which a person improves his or her position by self-help.  Many of those phrases contain an implicit sense of admiration.

So self-help is neither good nor bad.  It is the context that matters most.  When someone willingly offers help to another with the intended result of helping both parties, good things can happen.  Consider this point one.

My next proposition is it is better to proactively invest in solutions rather than hope somebody brings you a solution.  Some in need sometime wait for a solution to be proposed, while others make suggestions to those who can help solve the problem, hoping the suggestions will be heard, pursued and implemented.  I believe success comes to those who confront problems directly and design their own solutions or work closely with others to accomplish that end.  Not suggestions or wishful thinking, but a shared commitment to design a solution and work together to implement it. Consider this point two.

Consider this formula in the context of law departments: Point 1 + Point 2 = ?

Let me spitball a possible answer here.  Step 1: Law Department defines its objectives.  An example might be “we want a 25% reduction in spend locked in at the beginning of the next budget period, with no degradation in service, quality or output.”  Step 2: Law Department picks a willing law firm or a few such law firms.  Step 3: The parties meet and discussions ensue.  “What do you need from us to accomplish the objective?”  What resources can we provide to help you meet the objective?  How do you propose to meet the objective?  Why should we confident quality will be maintained?

And so forth.

This is just one idea.  Clients tend to be extremely smart and great collaborators.  But they need to act more like their business-side colleagues in addressing law department challenges. Own the problem. Design the solution.  Don’t wait for someone to suggest something that might help.  See what you want, and then in the immortal words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “make it so.”

One last point to consider.  When law firms design solutions, they are typically designed for more than just you.  So if “off the shelf” works or is good enough, fantastic.  But if you want a custom solution that meets your specific needs, off the shelf is not the way to go.

Interesting post in Rees Morrison’s Law Department Management blog. Thoughts on Why Law Departments Retain Outside Counsel discusses several theories.  First,  brains vs brawn.  This theory postulates that inside counsel handle the routine stuff but turn to outside counsel for more challenging work.  Second, the overflow theory.  Here, outside counsel are retained whenever there is too much work for inside counsel to handle.  Third, the theory of core competency.  By this theory, inside counsel concentrate on those areas where they excel and outsource the rest.  The kissing cousin of this theory is the CYA theory–use outside counsel whenever a potential scapegoat is necessary.

I am hardly in a position to argue whether there is any truth to these theories.  But I have to say that they are strangers to my personal experience.  In my experience, good inside counsel want good teammates.  They can better leverage their skills, experience and understanding of the business by working with people who view them, and treat them, as a teammate.  And I always benefit from having inside counsel as a teammate precisely because they have to know more than I do about the business and typically the dispute.  Invariably, they’re great brainstroming buddies.  They already have earned the confidence of inside management and potential witnesses.  I want that confidence to rub off on me–it makes my life so much easier.  And so on.

So now we’ve heard from a consultant and an outside counsel.  Inside counsel, what’s the answer?

GrammarDan Hull of What About Clients is the leader of the Good-Writing-Is-A-Necessity Bandwagon.  See some of his posts here.  But kudos to Michelle Golden of Golden Practices for keeping this critical topic front and center with her post highlighting the cost Rogers Communications, Inc. from a misplaced comma. (The cost is $2.13 million, by the way.) 

Its tempting to dismiss such stories with a dismissive “other-people-make-those mistakes-not-me” wave.  Resist that temptation.  Use the story as a reminder that a great deal rides on everything you do for your client, and your client is entitled to your very best, most-focused and concerted effort.

Thanks to my friend Dan Hull at What About Clients for introducing (at least to me) the concept of “muscle boutiques.”   Top talent, small firms, lower overhead, no deadwood.  Why should clients pay for those unprofitable offices in luxury cities? Do you get more value per person from Navy Seals or several battalions of infantry?  Most of the time, the answer is a no-brainer.

The trick, of course, is separating the muscle boutiques from the rest so clients can move from A to B with minimal effort.  There ought to be a list.

UPDATE: I was just reviewing some slides Tom Peters posted and came across this:
“Small Giants: Companies that choose to be great instead of good.”
Small Giants = Muscle Boutiques.

Check out this post by Tom Collins at morepartnerincome.  Tom refers to an article by Bob Burns at Brouse McDowell in Akron, Ohio.  Bob is a former inhouse attorney and has both selected and been selected, so he knows of what he speaks.  The article says  “I believe that a business should consider the ‘Five C’s’: (1) competency; (2) capacity; (3) commitment; (4) communication; and (5) cost.”

You can see the entirety of Bob’s article
here.  Thanks to Tom for sharing it.

The Greatest American Lawyer has a very interesting post titled “Being Big Provides No Intrinsic Value To The Client At All.” GAL posits this question:

 So what value is there to the client in being big? Oh sure, big law has developed a method to bill clients more hours and to drive its own internal revenue stream. There is no question that big law is the singularly perfect business model for that. But, I am talking about the client. I am talking about providing value to the client. Value defined as efficiency. Value defined as skill. Value defined as the best legal resource per dollar. I can’t think of a single advantage that big law has on those issues. Can you?

Dan Hull picked up the same theme here.  I thought I might pick up on the discussion and try to answer the question, at least from my perspective.

Let me provide a bit information about me that no doubt colors my thinking.  When I left law school, I joined a firm of 70 lawyers, firmly “mid-sized” by then-existing Chicago standards.  That firm grew and grew, and by the time I left 18 years later, it was about 400 lawyers in 5 cities.  I joined a “boutique” litigation firm of 30 lawyers where I have been for the last 5 years.  I’ve never seen life as a solo or even a firm as small as Dan’s.

I have come to believe that firms are a lot like NBA Centers.  Great teams frequently are built around great centers–Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem, Shaq, to name a few.  But not all great teams have great centers–take the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.  Remember such luminaries as Will Perdue, Stacy King, Bill Wennington?  Probably not.  Michael and Scottie did not need a great center to have a great team. But even centers like the great ones I named have limited value in certain situations.  When North Carolina played four corners offense, who remembers their centers?  When the game is run and gun, the big guys barely have time to get up and down the floor before the game is coming back the other way.

The point of this is that “there is a season for everything.”  Big firms do have their place.  When corporations have huge, immediate problems, they frequently don’t have time to seek out great virtual teams or joint ventures of smaller firms.  They need highly educated, well-trained bodies immediately.  Big firms can provide that resource.  Likewise, when a corporation wants to consolidate its work in order to obtain a better overall fee, big firms have the breadth of skill to be able to offer the client what it needs.  When a transaction is complicated and involves tax, real estate, finance, benefits, labor and corporate issues, big firms tend to be the places that have people with expertise in all of those disciplines.

It used to be that people went to big firm because they had library resources unavailable to the small firm or solo.  In those days of old, big firms had the secretaries who could crank out multiple drafts of briefs, lawyers who could “cite check” and bodies who could search out answers to interrogatories while drafting similar requests so numerous that they could just overwhelm the smaller adversary.  With the advent of the computer and its ubiquity, those advantages are of historical consequence only.

One other thing remains, though it too is changing in my view, however slowly.  That is the “safety” factor.  People buy comfort.  People buy political security.  I’ve heard it said that no one was ever fired for hiring Skadden, at least not until the bill arrived.  But it is inescapably that where consequences matter, there is safety in size, at least if you’re retaining Shaq or Kareem.  There isn’t great security in retaining Will Perdue.

What does all this yammering mean? It means that there is no single right answer to GAL’s question.  It means that some big firms are as worthless as a slow, uncoordinated giant who can’t score, rebound or play defense.  It means that the elite big firms will continue to provide riches to their partners.  It means that sophisticated clients will look beyond size and focus on the team.  Being from Chicago, I’ll stack Michael and Scottie’s teams against any. 

For me, I believe that the best answer is better explained using a military metaphor.  Sometimes the number of boots on the ground matter.  That’s why we have the Army and Marines.  Sometimes, and almost always for the really tough problems, you’re better off with an elite Navy Seal Team or the Delta Force. Small and elite is where you get the best of the best.

Are you really important to your law firm?  If not, might you be better off by being a premier client at a different firm?

Those are two questions raised by Rees Morrison’s post “Be primary to a regional firm rather than tertiary to a national powerhouse” in his Law Department Management blog.  His conclusion:

If your revenue accounts for a significant portion of a law firm’s billings, or even the largest chunk of a major partner’s billings, you will be treated with respect, deference, and extra efforts. If the same amount of gold rarely gets caught in the sieve of a huge firm or a huge biller, your prospects will be much worse.

Rees doesn’t answer the questions he poses.  I will, however, because this is the dirty little secret of big law firms. Not every lawyer in every large firm is an exceptional lawyer.  Some are very average.  Some associates are less than average, and some are so unconcerned with their career at the firm that they are not willing to go the extra mile.  There are times, and at times they are frequent, where limited resources have to be allocated.  Not enough associates.  Or a choice between a good associate and one who is not as good.  Same with paralegals.  A partner facing a choice between trying a case for a huge client and trying a case for a smaller client.  Who gets “handed off”?  Anyone who has worked at a large firm has countless examples where smaller clients received short shrift. Its like making sausage–if you don’t talk about it, maybe you can ignore the process while you’re being served.

There are great law firms that are smaller than the major firms.  There are elegant boutiques where your business would make you the dominant client.  Those are the places to be.