Inside the Mind of In-house Counsel

What is the thought process the General Counsel goes through when they need to find outside counsel?  I interviewed over a dozen GC’s and in-house counsel this past week at the Inside Counsel Superconference in Chicago to find the answer. ( Search for #ICSC10 at http://search.twitter.com to see the tweets from the conference).  Not surprisingly, the #1 source for outside counsel when looking for outside support was referrals.  “If we don’t already know someone who can help us, we ask for a referral from someone we trust in a related field or geography,” explained Michael Gruskin, Legal Global Process Leader of Litigation for General Motors. If that doesn’t work, I asked him what the next step would be- of course at that point he conceded that he could do a Google search.  The online search was a last resort though, not a first step.  So where does this take us?

Relationships are more important than ever.  Do you have a specialty niche in the law?  Do your peers know that?  Do other lawyers respect you for your ability in that area?  There has been a lot of criticism over the years about the futility of networking at local bar events or more recently on lawyer sites like Legal On-ramp and Martindale-Hubbel Connected.  Although some are in-house counsel on these sites, most of them people aren’t potential clients, are they?  But all of them are potential referral sources, and if you are referred by a trusted source- you move to the front of the line in the RFP process or avoid the RFP process altogether.

So where does social media fit in?  Is it really worth the sacrifice in terms of time and energy?  Social media all is about relationships, not about closing new business.  The quality of your relationships and the interactions you have with influential referrals sources is more important now than ever.  In-house counsel have no other choice than rely on referrals, they are far too busy for the most part to surf LinkedIN and Twitter when looking for outside counsel.

“I use LinkedIN only because I was invited,” explained another GC.  “I receive so many emails each day, the last thing I want to do is spend time on LinkedIN or Facebook reading more messages.”  This response was pretty typical of the older in-house counsel I spoke with.  71% of those I interviewed used Facebook while a surprisingly small 50% used LinkedIN, and only a few were active users.  For those counsel under the age of 40, 100% had Twitter accounts, for those over 40 years old there wasn’t a single Twitter user.  While my sample size was only 14, it was interesting to see it fall into the expected stereotypes.

“I like to use listserve of corporate counsel,” explained Michael Gruskin from GM. “I can ask the list for referrals, with a higher level of confidence because they are all in-house.”  See, it isn’t that in-house counsel doesn’t want to use technology to find lawyers- they just want to use the right technology to get help in the most efficient way possible.  This new technology brings us back to the old saying, it isn’t what you know, its who you know.

So how do you know which relationships are the most valuable?  It’s tough, you know who you touch- but it is almost impossible to tell who THEY touch.  One things for sure, more strong relationships are better.  Two weeks ago a partner from Sullivan and Cromwell was asked in a lunch session, “how does your firm keep on top year-in and year-out?”  The answer wasn’t too surprising, “every few years we lose some great attorneys to retirement and people within the firm predict a decline, but younger attorneys take their place and the firm continues on just as strong as before.”  So what is the constant?  You had to read between the lines in listening to him speak, but the constant that spans their history is the relationships.  The relationships of the white shoe firms are far more valuable than the ivy-legue degrees and legal analysis of their attorneys.

In-house counsel will continue to hire people they know and they trust.  So either you can earn their trust, or gain the confidence of the referrals sources that will help you get a foot in the door.  It has taken Sullivan & Cromwell over 130 years to build those kinds of powerful relationships, so you better get started.

Join the Convo with @GiniDietrich this Friday

Isn’t it the job of the marketing department and the PR firm to “control the message?” Shouldn’t they be consulted before any press release comes out, interview occurs or content is posted? Truth is, “control the message” is the prevailing logic in the PR world and among marketing departments. As CEO of Arment Dietrich, Gini Dietrich has worked in the Big PR world and understands that things don’t work that way anymore.

She gets that the world of social media is different, as you can see by her highly popular blog. Come join us to hear how she is helping large companies and organizations around the country build a groundswell of support through social media strategies. How does an organization get started? How do they change from a centralized marketing mindset to an infinitely more powerful hive mentality?  How can you take advantage of the wisdom and comments of the masses?

Come join the conversation this Friday at 12:00 PM EST as Gini Dietrich, author of the blog http://spinsucks.com, join us to help answer these questions. Gini has a brilliant mind when it comes to social media- I guarantee this call will be well worth your time.

CLICK HERE to sign up for the call.

Baby Boomers Compromise for Generation Y

Just over a year ago at the Inside Counsel Superconference two well respected attorneys by the names of Scott Greenfield and Dan Hull lambasted Generation Y for their lack of work ethic, inability to sacrifice for clients and general sense of entitlement. There was push-back and considerable blog outrage on both sides as you can see in the comments of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.   But in the end the Boomers claimed victory over Generation Y as reported in Jordan Furlong’s article The legacy of work-life balance.  The economy was just too tough for Generation Y to keep up the fight.  Nothing more to see here folks, go on home.  Fast forward a year- and we are hearing a different tune.  Yesterday the Gen-Y panel was revisited at Superconference.

“One of our young attorneys approached us and said,

‘I’d like to take a year off to live in New Zealand.  Can you hold the for job for me until I get back?’

“We went back and forth on it, but in the end we decided to grant his request and to hold his position for him.  It came down to the fact that he was a very talented attorney, and we didn’t want to lose him.”

-Joseph Perkins, Senior Counsel of Cummings Inc. at the 2010 Superconference in Chicago.

Another Baby Boomer audience member explained:

“We wanted the same things as Generation Y, we just didn’t dare to ask.” (Very true, I’m sure everybody agrees that spending a year in New Zealand sounds like a lot of fun.)

To simplify the multiple threads, comments and discussions running from yesterday’s event I’m going to narrow it down to three complaints the Baby Boomers have of Generation Y- and how the panelists and audience members felt they could be handled.

Complaint 1:  Generation Y doesn’t want to work long hours.

“Generation Y aren’t asking for less hours- just for a more flexible schedule in which to get the work done.” -Boomer audience member.

Members of Generation Y that have made it through the ranks of law school to work at the big firms know that they are expected to work very hard long hours.  They just want a little flexibility.  After 8pm at night they are far more comfortable doing legal research in their flannel pajamas on their couch with a laptop than they are sitting in a stuffy office late at night.  Do younger attorneys need to earn this type of flexible work environment?  I don’t think so.  If it’s really about getting the best work for the client, it makes sense to have focused attorneys working where they are comfortable and motivated.

“Generation Y are always plugged into their Blackberry’s- we never stop working.” -Generation Y audience member

Is it possible to get more out of Generation Y than previous generations?  Definitely, but it won’t work with the traditional office model.  To lead Generation Y it requires a little more creativity.

Complaint 2: Generation Y want the big paycheck, but aren’t willing to work for it.

“Most Gen Y-ers would prefer a 15% cut in salary and a better teaching environment in their 1st year as associates.” -Panelist Arin Reeves, JD., Ph.D.

In my last year of law school I had two offers that I seriously considered.  One was at a big city firm with hourly requirements in the 2100 hours-per-year range, and the other was in a local mid-size firm working from 1500-1800.  Even though the second offer was just over half as much money- it wasn’t a hard decision.  I had a wife and new child at home to care about- working 8 in the morning until 9 at night just wasn’t attractive to me.  I wanted to see my son grow up while it was still light outside.

Even large firms are starting to give reduced hour requirements as flex-time options.  Dorsey & Whitney for example will on a case-by-case basis allow attorneys to bill 75% of full time and receive a 25% cut in pay.  What an idea, huh?

For Gen Y the money isn’t as important as the flexibility.  What good is a huge salary if you only have two weeks of vacation per year to enjoy it?

Complaint 3: Generation Y demands explanations for everything ad naseum.

“Generation Y grew up extremely compartmentalized- from soccer practice to day-care groups.  There was always such a tight schedule that Generation Y is used to having clearly outlined expectations because that is how they are wired.  That is how Baby Boomers have raised them.  You have to accept that this younger generation won’t ever be Baby Boomers-their experience is far too different.” -Panelist Arin Reeves, JD., Ph.D.

“Generation Y is full of perfectionists.  Just set clear expectations for them and they will blow you away.” -Generation X audience member.

Is it worth it?  Is it really worth if for Baby Boomers to compromise- to adjust the way they are managing Gen Y?  Does Gen Y have something truly unique to offer, or is the best hope to transform them into Baby Boomer doppelgangers?

“How do you remember September 11th?” Arin Reeves asked the audience.  “For Generation Y they were teenagers when the towers collapsed.  They have grown up in a world where they aren’t sure if there will be a tomorrow- so they want the most out of life today.”  Nothing is permanent in the minds of Generation Y.  Life can end suddenly, they saw parents who lost jobs or marriages suddenly.  They want to make the most of their life, and employers that understand this will get the most out of them.

“Generation Y are going to make great leaders, because they see the world in such a different way.” -Arin Reeves

In a couple years Generation Y will outnumber Baby Boomers.  The firms and companies that get the very best out of Generation Y going forward will know how to motivate them.

Time has Come for LPM and Alternative Fees

“I live in the world of In-house Counsel, and they want alternative fees.”

-Pam Woldow, Esq.

(29 Minutes)

 

This past Friday we were delighted to have Altman Weil Principle Pam Woldow join our Friday Conference call.  She came on to answer two major questions.

1.  Do companies really expect alternative fee offerings?

2.  Are law firms ready to give them what they want?

The hundreds of firms that used to handle legal services for Levi Strauss were most likely claiming “our client doesn’t want alternative fees” right up until the moment that Orrick swooped in with an alternative fee offering and took files away from hundreds of attorneys.  Just because you haven’t spoken to your clients about alternative fees, don’t assume that your competitors have done the same.

Listen in to the conference call with Pam Woldow to hear the #1 tool law firms can use when talking with in-house counsel, the most important question to ask your biggest client (which 99% of firms fail to ask), and the first steps your firm can take if they are considering incorporating more alternative fees.

This next Friday Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author of http://spinsucks.com will be joining the call at 12:00 PM EST.  CLICK HERE to sign up for the call.

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6 Great Links for WordPress Blog Security

 

This last Friday we had a great call with Raanan Bar-Cohen from Automattic (the company behind the open source project known as WordPress.)  Having worked with Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal with their technology  he had some great insights on protecting your blog and making the most of the WordPress platform.  He also has asked me to pass on these 6 great links that were mentioned in the call:

1) Security Plugin to scan your existing WordPress self-hosted install
for exploits: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/exploit-scanner/

2) Blog post on how to secure your WordPress:
http://wordpress.org/development/2009/09/keep-wordpress-secure/

3) List of recommended hosts: http://get.wp.com/hosting

4) List of top WordPress consultants: http://codepoet.com

5) Our Open Source HD video service: http://videopress.com

6) Mobile and other apps: http://en.support.wordpress.com/apps/

I hope you will join us this Friday, May 21st at 12:00PM EST as Pam Waldow will be joining us to discuss “How to win BIG clients with flat fee arrangements.”  Click HERE to sign up for the call.

Return of the Deal Makers

Lawyers used to be great deal makers, but the deal makers seem to have joined the witness relocation program. Where have they all gone?

Here is the latest deal:

“As lawyers we will work hard for you, it will be very expensive- but you will get high quality legal work.”

“How much will it cost?”

“I’m sorry, we can’t answer that.”

“Why not? What if I can’t afford it? How can I budget for this?”

“We are sorry, we are lawyers- and that is the deal. We will send you a bill at the end of the month.”

These are LAWYERS we are talking about. This is a group that knows how to negotiate great deals – they’ve done it tens of thousands of times, just ask them. This is the same group that created the United States Constitution. So why are their clients on the losing end of the deal? Why does the billable hour have to survive? Customers are demanding a better model, but come on – as lawyers we should be able to deliver.

If we want to WIN the business, it is our job to come up with a better model.

With the right model your firm can win big business. Just look at the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe that made a compelling presentation to Levi Strauss.

Here was the deal:

“Levi Strauss, if you give us ALL of your global legal business (except for IP), we will charge you a flat fee- and guarantee that we will stay in the budget every year.”

“Deal!” replied Levi Strauss, “Here is our global legal work worth over $34 Million Dollars.” (actual details of the deal were not publicly disclosed)

How did Orrick win the business? They were deal makers.

Now any good deal has to be value enhancing. Both sides have to win, so how did Orrick pull that off? Or are they just taking a chance? How can they guarantee they won’t come out on the losing end here?

The answer is alternative fee arrangement (flat fees) and better project management. “Alternative billing and legal project management go hand in hand,” Pam Woldow law firm consultant from Altman Weil explained. She went on to say that for alternative billing to be more profitable for firms- they need to streamline the process by which they deliver legal services. Legal project management is the key to making that work.

So does this mean the billable hour is on the way out? Not quite. “The billable hour is not dead, it remains the fairest and best model for risk allocation,” explained consultant David Barnard last week at the ALM Business Development Forum. David is correct on two points (1) the billable hour is fair- for the lawyers. (2) It is also a good model for risk allocation, again favoring the lawyers. But as deal makers, can’t we create a better offer for our clients?

Alternative fee arrangements have the potential to be very disruptive. If you don’t believe me, just ask the dozens of firms that suddenly lost $34 Million dollars of work to Orrick. I’m not talking about the end of Big Law by any means- but I am predicting a shake-up. With any economic disruption there are winners and there are losers. Which end will your firm be on? This last 15 months have been brutal for the legal industry, but those firms that keep growing have been able to do so based on a strategy of innovation- not business as usual.

My message to the top 20 firms in America: Keep doing exactly what your doing. It has worked for almost 100 years- so just relax, sit back and keep watching the money roll in.

My message to the rest of you: “Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in your cross-hairs and take them down.” To riff on a quote from Bill Murray’s character in Rushmore. It is time for your lawyers to let out their inner deal makers, and start winning business by presenting companies with an offer they can’t refuse. Volatile markets, increasing global competition and the emergence of alternative fee arrangements are the perfect storm to usher in the return of the deal makers.

Adrian Dayton is a New York Lawyer and consultant to large firms on innovation and social media. This Friday he will be hosting a FREE conference call with Pam Woldow entitled “How to Win Big Clients with Alt Fees and LPM.” CLICK HERE to sign up for this call, spaces are limited.

Big Law Gives it Away #LCMO

Each year DLA Piper puts on one of the foremost real estate conferences in America.  You would think that at a conference like this they would want to highlight their best and brightest attorneys, but they don’t.  In fact, I learned yesterday at the Law Firm Business Development Forum (where many of you have seen me tweeting under the hash tag “#LCMO”) that DLA Piper doesn’t have a single one of their attorneys on the panels.  The panelist list reads like a “who’s who” in the real estate industry from big hitters like the CEO of Global Hyatt Corporation to the Managing Director of Barclays Capital.  What do they charge attendees for the content, the conference and the cocktails afterward?  Nothing.  This event is free to attendees.

So why are they giving it away for free? Read more

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