Corporate Law Departments – What do they need?

General Counsel of Corporate Law Departments are like most clients, except that they may have less time to focus on what they want/need. They tend to be true multi-taskers, wearing several hats at one time. They are the lawyer for the company. If they are effective, they are also a trusted business advisor to the CEO and other corporate managers. This leaves them less time, perhaps, to focus on the legal side than other clients. How can we meet their time-compressed needs?

Peter Jenkins, a noted consultant to corporate general counsel, suggests that "… it doesn’t take a lot of dialogue with clients (or perhaps none at all) to identify broad stroke law department needs and wants.  Knowing that the pressure is on across the board to find more value for the legal dollar spent and to manage costs more effectively, it’s not hard to come up with statements/questions, the right answers to which would immediately spark the customer’s (corporate counsel’s) interest."

Peter suggests asking the following questions:

  • How can I manage my IP portfolio more cost-effectively?  BTW, I simply don’t have any money in my budget for new systems. 
  • I know I’m throwing money away almost every day.  We use dozens of law firms across the country.  How can I be sure that we’re not paying again today for something we purchased three weeks or a year ago? 
  • Electronic discovery costs are going through the roof.  How can I gain effective control on this runaway, unpredictable expense? 
  • I would love to move my preferred outside counsel from straight hourly billing to an alternative fee arrangement like Jeff Carr’s ACES model for the repetitive litigation we have — where everyone has “skin in the game.”  But I simply don’t have time to learn how to implement and manage the ACES system; plus the law firms I use have little or no experience in decision tree analysis and budgeting.  How do I get where I want to go? 
  • I know I could save a lot of money if the law firms I use would pay more attention to how they staff my matters.  I just don’t have time to oversee this; nor would I really know how to make effective staffing changes. 
  • I can almost taste the low-hanging fruit.  There are 5 cost-saving initiatives I would implement right away if I had a full-time Law Department Administrator.  Unfortunately, I can’t afford to hire one. 
  • We’re so close to and involved with what we do everyday, I’m sure we’re doing a lot of things that are unnecessary and/or could be done much more efficiently.  However, we rarely can find time for staff meetings to discuss our substantive workloads, let alone to try and figure out how we might operate more cost effectively.  I would love to hire a consultant, but I can tell you right now what the answer to that request would be.  And, I don’t need someone to point out what’s wrong if they don’t have a way that will fix and quickly improve our contribution to the company bottom line.

There are many more questions that could be asked that reflect the General Counsel’s reality. Using Peter’s list is a great starting point. The "bottom line," though, is that if we can provide solutions to the dilemma faced by General Counsel, then we’ll get their atttention which, in turn, will lead to more referrals and engagements.


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