I don’t think a legal marketing conference should ever get away without a general counsel panel. I have never walked away without helpful new information or confirmation of theories I have.
Yesterday’s panel at LMA-LA’s Annual CME Conference, moderated by Peter Zeughauser, was no different. “Bridging the Gulf” Conversations with In-House Counsel” featured John Dent, VP and Senior Counsel, Hilton Hotels, Stuart L. Pardau, Associated General Counsel, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. and Ellen Rosenberg, Senior Counsel, Guitar Center.
One thing was made clear: As far as the generals counsel on this panel, the attorney/client relationship comes down to it’s their reputation on the line.
Here are a few highlights:
Client service: Mr. Pardau wants you to “deliver the goods. Good sound legal advice that is actionable.” He wants his attorneys to “be there” and “show up.” Snickers of the 30 page memo came up. Manage expectations; don’t over promise and under deliver. Mr. Dent doesn’t necessarily want it quick; he “wants it on time.” He is accountable to his internal clients, and by not meeting deadlines you put his reputation on the line.
Responsiveness: Everyone agreed that responsiveness remains a priority, and also one of their biggest pet peeves when it comes to their relationships with outside counsel. In this day and age, everyone is expected to have a cell-phone and BlackBerry. Ms. Rosenberg’s noted “if someone goes into a black-hole their credibility is lost.” They are not asking that you drop everything, every time, but acknowledge that you received the call/e-mail and when you’ll get back to them.
The Bills: According to Mr. Dent, “Cost is less important if you get what you pay for.” Just don’t argue about the bills, you’re not going to win. Ms. Rosenberg reminded the audience that they were all outside counsel at some point in their careers. They can read a billing statement. She acknowledges that “it’s always awkward to talk about money.” And, when a client has an issue with a bill, there is only one answer: Fix it. It’s not worth losing the trust of the client over a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. Mr. Dent added that “there is no lower value work than reviewing invoices. No better valued relationship than an attorney you can trust.” Get the bills right the first time.
Understand the client’s business: Do your homework. For publicly traded companies, the 10K has more information on the business than you’ll ever need to know. Sign up for press releases and news articles, either through the company website, or an online service like Google Alerts. Don’t limit your education while wooing the client, but remain on top of the clients’ business happenings throughout the relationship.
Directories: Greenberg Glusker CMO Jonathon Fitzgarrald’s question on directories the GC’s consult received a round of applause. All agreed that there are too many directories out there and that they look to see who is issuing the list before weighing the information. Chambers and Martindale AV ratings were the only two deemed respectable. The GCs understand that most directories are “pay-to-play” and give the others little to no weight. When the other directories arrive in the mail, Ms. Rosenberg admitted to “flipping through them to see who I might know, but not for reference.”
Take Away: For Mr. Dent it is about dialogue. “Pitching is a two-way conversation,” and that you should “learn their needs and service them.” He mentioned that no one has ever asked him how he selects outside counsel. Mr. Pardau reminded the audience that “there are no short cuts. It takes time to cultivate relationships.” Don’t just take him to lunch, talk at him for an hour and expect him to send you business. Ask questions and be patient. Follow up. And for Ms. Rosenberg, she wanted to stress that she expects her attorneys to “learn what the client needs and what is most important to them.” The key is “responsiveness.”