Last post I suggested ways law firms could better serve clients. General counsels can also take steps to get better service from their outside counsel. 

If I were a GC, here are questions I’d ask my law firms:

  • Do you actively manage and budget matters? Just drafting a plan or budget causes lawyers to consider the flow of work, the possible scenarios, the resources required, and the likely time frames. The plan also serves as a valuable communications tool between the firm and law department. Spreadsheets are an easy-to-use tool for this. I have to do a budget for my boss, I want you to do one for me.
  • What’s your approach to managing discovery? I don’t an army of associates or contract attorneys manually reviewing gigabytes of documents? Make sure your firm uses the appropriate approach to search and identify relevant documents. Increasingly, this means concept searching or other sophisticated software that reduces the number of documents lawyers must review.
  • Transactions are expensive – how do you keep costs down? I’m coming to you for high stakes deals. I expect you to have the routine aspects of my transaction down pat. Do you have document assembly, master forms, checklists, interactive tools, or other systems that make you efficient for for the routine elements of my deal?
  • Do you regularly perform early case assessments? Before diving into a new matter, it makes business sense to assess the stakes, the public relations value, the potential to settle, and the possibility of ADR. A formal process might include the use of formal risk analysis tools (decision trees) to quantify the value and consulting jury verdict databases to help assess potential damages.
  • Do you systematically assign lawyers to new matters? I want experts on my matters and if you use my matter for training, I don’t want to pay the full rate. Do you have an experience tracking system so that I can be sure you are staffing my matters appropriately?
  • How do you capture and re-use your know-how? Don’t charge me for work I’ve already paid for or that you’ve done for another client. Do you have form files or templates for routine court filings and routine transactions? How about an automated work product retrieval system?
  • How do you collaborate internally and externally? Can a new lawyer on the case find past e-mail exchanges? Do you have systematic ways of discussing my matter and collaborating on documents? If you do a lot of work for me, will you put all final documents in a secure extranet that I can access? I’ve heard a lot about wikis – do you think that tool would help us work together?
  • What are you doing to help me reduce my future legal exposure? You do a lot of work for me, so I want you to help identify root causes of my legal problems and whether there are preventive law programs I should sponsor or operational changes my company can make. You should also offer my department and my business managers timely legal updates that will help us manage our risk more effectively.
  • What self-service options do you offer? I have many capable lawyers who work for me. I trust a lot of business managers jugment. They can do a lot on their own given the right tools – what do you offer?
  • What do I get as part of our relationship? I use BigLaw for depth of resources. What are you doing to keep me smart about legal developments?

And by the way, it’s not just asking that’s important. The GC needs to be willing to select firms based on the answers.