An Open Letter From 25 General Counsel

The American Lawyer

July 11, 2017
Reprinted with Permission

Since the 1990s, leaders of the legal profession have been talking about change and progress: the death of the billable hour, the automation of commodity work, the use of project management principles and more.  Our shared ambition has always been to enhance the value and quality of advice received by clients, while rewarding law firms that understand and embrace powerful client service.

After twenty years, some changes have come but the improvements they were meant to deliver have remained elusive.  Relationships between in-house clients and law firms could, on balance, provide greater value to both groups. 

In our view, one reason the industry has struggled to innovate is that we don’t know which in-house and law firm management approaches work best.  For instance, many of us have created preferred provider panels – but do they achieve the results we’re seeking? And what makes panels thrive?  We all seem to be moving toward value billing – but does a flat fee arrangement impact service quality or the level of talent assigned to the work?  Related, do firms that charge the most deliver better service and expertise?  What about the in-house practice of sharing performance evaluations with firms – does it yield meaningful benefits?  And does the law firm trend toward legal project management deliver better efficiency and results?

These are important questions for law firms and clients alike.  While large clients spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours a year working with their law firms, firm leaders are making structural, growth, technology, and market-entry decisions that turn on assumptions about what clients want.  We believe that, working together, we can provide a helpful road map, suggesting which practices and innovations lead to positive results and strong relationships. Through better information, we hope to move the profession forward.

We are working together with AdvanceLaw to tackle this challenge.  This is a real-time experiment testing which in-house practices (e.g., convergence, value billing, competitive bids) and law firm attributes (e.g., firm size and structure, legal project management) tend to produce the strongest relationships, satisfaction, and results.  The methodology is fairly straightforward: we are collecting and sharing outcomes and performance evaluations on a wide range of legal matters with AdvanceLaw staff, who are determining which behaviors consistently generate better results.  Through a large data set, across our companies, we are moving beyond the anecdotal to measure what really works.

The data set has already grown to represent thousands of matters; as the project continues, it will encompass millions of data points allowing for a detailed analysis of many critical questions.  As the results come in, a number of general counsel from our group will author articles offering thoughts on these findings, including practical implications for both clients and law firms.

We know we can’t answer every key question, but we hope this effort will lead to a better conversation among leaders of the legal profession about service quality and innovation.  A further discussion of this project can be found in this article, and questions may be directed to info@advancelaw.com.

Sincerely,

Michael Degnan, General Counsel, Keurig Green Mountain
Timothy Murphy, General Counsel, Mastercard
Jonathan Pearl, General Counsel, Sony Electronics
Amy Olli, General Counsel, Avaya
Damien Atkins, General Counsel, Panasonic North America
Verona Dorch, General Counsel, Peabody Energy
Lawrence Greenberg, General Counsel, The Motley Fool
Scott Offer, General Counsel, Flex
Brian Chevlin, General Counsel, Pernod Ricard USA
Wanji Walcott, General Counsel, PayPal
Michael Finn, General Counsel, Axalta Coating Systems
Rebecca House, General Counsel, Rockwell Automation
Brian Levey, General Counsel, Upwork
Bill Deckelman, General Counsel, DXC Technology
William Sawyers, General Counsel, Del Monte Foods
Jeffrey Sherman, General Counsel, Becton Dickinson
Ellen Maturen, Deputy General Counsel, PulteGroup
Royce Warrick, General Counsel, Solenis
Seth Jaffe, General Counsel, Levi Strauss & Co.
Joshua Sherbin, General Counsel, TriMas
Lee Reichert, Deputy General Counsel, Molson Coors
Kent Bednarz, General Counsel, Shiloh Industries
Alan Tse, General Counsel, Petco
John Nurkin, General Counsel, SPX Corporation
Tom Pastore, General Counsel, Guardian Industries

This article was first published by Corporate Counsel, a part of American Lawyer Media, here.