WHY LAW FIRM PEDIGREE MAY BE A THING OF THE PAST
Harvard Business Review
At AdvanceLaw, firms are successfully unseating incumbents on high stakes work (e.g., recent $500 million M&A deal; national trial counsel for a significant multi-state class action). These firms have been receiving impressive evaluations from in-house counsel. One reason for this is that top talent is increasingly dispersed, not residing solely at the most pedigreed of firms.
LEGAL INNOVATION AWARDS
In December 2016, AdvanceLaw was cited by the Financial Times for its partnership with private equity firm, TPG. Together, AdvanceLaw and TPG “created the Legal Services Solution to connect TPG Growth’s portfolio companies with vetted outside counsel.”
DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION
International Bar Association
AdvanceLaw is a company that connects corporate general counsel with firms that "exhibit strong quality, expertise, efficiency, and innovation." Key to AdvanceLaw’s business model is its performance evaluation system, which brings transparency to the process of law firm selection.
CONSULTING ON THE CUSP OF DISRUPTION
Harvard Business Review
AdvanceLaw [is] helping general counsel move beyond cost and brand as proxies for quality…. [It vets firms] for quality, efficiency, and client service and shares performance information with its membership of general counsel from major global companies, including Google, Panasonic, Nike, and eBay. “The legal market has historically lacked transparency, making it difficult for us to deviate from using incumbent, brand-name law firms,” says Bob Marin, the general counsel of Panasonic North America. “Things are changing now. This has greatly helped general counsel.”
HOW ADVANCELAW IMPROVES THE CORPORATE LEGAL MARKET
As the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company said: “the standard shouldn’t be that you never get fired for hiring Cravath. It should be you never get fired for using AdvanceLaw.” [AdvanceLaw] helps in-house lawyers identify top outside counsel, and gives those outside counsel an incentive to excel: they earn more work from the entire GC group through the performance feedback system.
ADVANCING THE LEGAL PROFESSION
AdvanceLaw identifies high-performing firms and lawyers for the general counsel of over a hundred large organizations. Launched in 2010, the idea developed because Dattu saw that in-house counsel were reluctant to take risks associated with moving work away from incumbents, even when the incumbents didn’t live up to expectations. Finding new counsel is both difficult and time-consuming … “Historically, when switching costs are high, complacency tends to set in and markets don’t perform as well,” Dattu says. “We wanted to find an easier and more reliable way for in-house counsel to identify top lawyers.” The selection process is rigorous. To work with AdvanceLaw, a firm “needs to be deeply committed to stellar client service.” Performance transparency [means] in-house clients are confident that they’ll be able to “migrate from just pretty good lawyers to great lawyers.” Dattu says this is at the heart of AdvanceLaw’s mission: “The GCs who work with us are fired up, [as are] the firms. Historically, a lawyer doing a great job for a client doesn’t have a ready mechanism to earn more work from several other clients.”
Q&A WITH GENERAL COUNSEL OF UPWORK
We use AdvanceLaw, which is a new organization essentially created for GCs to identify really good law firms outside the Am Law 20 or "magic circle" firms for every type of legal project imaginable. When I was at eBay, we were one of their first clients, or in-house teams, to join and since then there have been many other household names.
DISRUPTION IN THE PROFESSIONAL SERVICES INDUSTRY
CEO Panel Discussion
On a panel with Tom Gardner (CEO of The Motley Fool) and Derek van Bever (Professor at Harvard Business School), AdvanceLaw’s CEO, Firoz Dattu, answers the question of what makes disruption in the legal industry particularly difficult. Jody Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group, moderates this lively discussion. The below link to a two-minute video clip sets up the premise (with the full discussion also available online).
WHY CLIENTS MUST ASK FOR CHANGE
3 Geeks and a Law Blog
Another speaker from the Big Thinkers panel added another dimension to my musings on collective conversations. Firoz Dattu used to teach economics at Harvard. Among other cogent points, he talked about getting past the failings of individual firms and thinking more about how we can correct market failures. In particular, he emphasized the lack of perfect information. Dattu is the CEO of AdvanceLaw. AdvanceLaw has brought together the GCs of over 100 of the largest corporate clients (e.g., Google, McDonald’s, Nike, Sony, Deutsche Bank, MasterCard) into something that looks from afar like a loose consortium. Rather than buying together, the GCs of these legal service consumers pool resources to vet law firms and, once firms qualify for the go-to list, commit to sharing feedback on quality of service.
LAW FIRMS TO GCS: WANT CHANGE? PUSH HARDER
At CLOC's inaugural conference in San Francisco, the message coming from legal department operations executives and law firms is one and the same: law firms are ripe for change. “When the costs of switching are high, it results in complacency at law firms,” said Firoz Dattu, the CEO of AdvanceLaw, which helps connect law departments with innovative law firms. He told legal ops execs to inspire in-house lawyers who may be set in their ways: "[O]ur job — the people in this room … is trying to move the entire department so that the problem is solved.”
LEGAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES SERIES
AdvanceLaw is a service designed by general counsel keen to improve the legal market and provides customized support to general counsel participants, helping them select firms and lawyers for their legal needs, and helping them share valuable performance information. AdvanceLaw’s Firoz Dattu was quoted by LexisNexis early in 2015 as saying, “General counsel will increasingly combine insights from their billing data … with outside counsel performance scores (on things like quality, responsiveness, expertise, efficiency) to identify the best lawyers and firms for their work – this will help in-house lawyers replace not just poor performers, but even average performers with much stronger ones, thereby increasing legal market competition. Related, general counsel reliance on law firm pedigree will continue to decline.”
MEASURING THE VALUE OF LAW FIRM PEDIGREE
The Legal Whiteboard
AdvanceLaw is a good example of what Richard Susskind calls a “closed legal community.” AdvanceLaw was formed a few years ago by Firoz Dattu, a Harvard-trained lawyer who spent time in BigLaw (Paul Weiss). To get into the AdvanceLaw network, prospective law firms are run through a rigorous RFP process that evaluates things like expertise, innovation, quality …. If a firm makes the AdvanceLaw cut, they start getting assignments from participating legal departments. But here is the enormous differentiator. Feedback is collected by AdvanceLaw and shared with the law firm and AdvanceLaw legal departments. So let’s boil down AdvanceLaw’s business model into its simplest terms: It gathers information so that legal departments don’t pay excessive prices for the CYA benefits of hiring high-prestige firms. CYA still matters, of course. But through AdvanceLaw, pedigree is being given a more accurate valuation. Susskind is right. Closed legal communities are going to be major disruptors in the legal marketplace.
SURVEY OF CHIEF LEGAL OFFICERS
Wall Street Journal
In the past, general counsel would often hire well-known law firms as a sort of insurance policy to reassure nervous boards and investors, particularly during big transactions. [However] clients are increasingly willing to hire [non-white shoe firms], according to a recent survey of top legal officers at 88 big companies by AdvanceLaw, a company that helps general counsel at Panasonic, Google, and other companies vet law firms and attorneys. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they would be less likely to use a "pedigreed" firm for high-stakes matters if they could [reduce] the bill by hiring a good lawyer from [another] firm. Cost isn’t the only part of the equation. Nearly 60% of the general counsel polled by AdvanceLaw said lawyers at [white shoe] firms were less attentive to their concerns than those at other firms.
HARVARD, DA VINCI AND LAW FIRM PEDIGREES
Some of the authors’ most enticing data … surrounds AdvanceLaw’s clients that actually moved [legal work]. Regarding this, the authors say, “…firms of varying sizes and pedigree are successfully unseating AmLaw 20 and Magic Circle incumbents on high stakes work (e.g., a recent M&A deal valued at $500 million; national trial counsel for a significant multi-state class action).” To the authors’ credit, aside from being brilliant – see their bios – AdvanceLaw seems to have a unique view into corporate America’s legal departments.
THE BUSINESS OF SERVING CLIENTS
Responsiveness is used by general counsel as a proxy for overall client service. If a general counsel isn’t experiencing stellar responsiveness, he or she assumes that the other aspects of client service that are less tangible or visible to them aren’t happening either … I’ve witnessed firms not receiving large matters that were "theirs to lose" simply because the lawyers were not responsive enough in preliminary conversations, prior to the client signing the engagement letter. Regarding sensitivity to cost, it’s not about being the lowest-cost provider. It’s about signaling to the general counsel, credibly, that the lawyer and the firm will do everything they can to reduce inefficiency. General counsel appreciate that costs will be high at times and that not all is controllable.
Q&A WITH GENERAL COUNSEL OF PERNOD RICARD
We are significant players in the Advance Law legal initiative, which gives GCs access to a highly select group of law firms in the US and around the world that offer [competitive] rates and extremely high-level legal services. This unique initiative represents the future of outside legal services and allows companies to … obtain the best value for their money.
David Galbenski and David Barringer
General Counsel know that talent is not just at the AmLaw 20 or the Magic Circle firms, but they don’t know which partners to trust if they were to migrate work away from the incumbent or pedigreed firms. It’s a scary thing for an in-house lawyer to move work to a new firm with which they don’t have experience. AdvanceLaw identifies law firms in the US and around the world that understand that quality and efficiency are not mutually exclusive. Everyone at AdvanceLaw is passionate about making the legal market more efficient for GCs and rewarding the good lawyers out there who impress their clients.
CAN LAWYERS STAY IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT?
University of Chicago Press
Most in-house counsel spend very little of their time managing law firms, yet they know that this is a very important task that too often gets ignored. As the legal market wakes up, gaps are starting to be filled by entrepreneurs. On the matter of helping corporate counsel to find and manage law firms, a recent example is a company called AdvanceLaw. AdvanceLaw helps companies that already have large legal departments to find and retain lawyers...
GENERAL COUNSEL INCREASINGLY DUMPING THE TOP BIGLAW FIRMS
Above the Law
Historically, the elite Biglaw firms derived safety and security from the knowledge that they could depend on big fees from large institutional clients. After all, where would the big dogs feel confident sending their legal work if not to a giant, white-shoe firm, with a complete support staff and the cream of the law school graduating crop? It encouraged behemoth firms and no small amount of complacency. A new study confirms that there’s even more bad news for the top Biglaw firms: GCs simply don’t want them any more. That’s what a new survey by AdvanceLaw cited in the Harvard Business Review suggests. After talking to the general counsel of 88 teeny-tiny companies like Lenovo, Vanguard, Shell, Google, NIKE, Walgreens, Dell, eBay, RBC, Panasonic, Nestle, Progressive, Starwood, Intel, and Deutsche Bank, the survey found that 74 percent of GCs would be much more likely to choose a less-pedigreed firm for high-stakes litigation over a more-pedigreed firm (defined as Am Law 20 or Magic Circle) if the difference in cost was 30 percent or more. And the exodus [from white shoe firms] described by the survey is traceable in law firm revenues.
PROFILE OF WIKIMEDIA'S IN-HOUSE LEGAL FUNCTION
During his seven years at eBay, Geoff Brigham developed relationships with outside counsel who are well-versed in legal issues facing web-based organizations, many of whom now work with Wikimedia. And he taps into AdvanceLaw, a coalition that connects GCs with vetted attorneys who do quality work.
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