How E-Discovery Has Helped Legitimize Contract Work

Nine years ago when we started Counsel On Call – we celebrated our anniversary on April 3 -- we had to work our tails off just to get a courtesy meeting with a client. We spent a lot of time in those meetings addressing uninformed stereotypes about contract lawyers who ‘couldn’t get a job in a real firm’ or were ‘too lazy to do the work.’ After talking in detail about the quality of our attorneys and how they simply didn’t want the big firm life, or had another interest they wanted to pursue in addition to practicing law, or wanted to spend more time with family, we started to get beyond those initial hurdles. Realistically, most everyone we met with knew an attorney that fit our model.

I’m glad to say that many of these prejudices have dissipated over the last decade, and I’m especially pleased to see that so many talented attorneys now choose to practice law in a non-traditional way. It’s more rewarding that clients recognize this as well. Most of our clients refer to our attorneys as Counsel On Call attorneys, or employment attorney, bankruptcy attorney, corporate attorney or discovery attorney … there is certainly more awareness that not every great lawyer works in a “permanent position” within a firm or in-house. It’s helped us get to the pressing matters at hand – ways we can provide our clients with effective business solutions that incorporate low-priced, experienced and highly qualified attorneys.

So what was the tipping point? This is difficult to say. First, the attorneys who have worked with Counsel On Call the last nine years have helped change the perception of our clients. Second, once clients started working with our attorneys, they realized how easy it really was, and how much value each attorney offered. Third, our clients were willing to share their experiences with others – most of our business has grown through referrals.

Client needs have come in many forms and each has contributed to the build-up to this tipping point. Like the client who had to dispose of real estate assets within six months and needed an attorney who could motivate business people as well as draft all the documents; or the client that needed an economical way to draft and review vendor agreements; or, more recently, the client that wanted to get its arms around discovery costs so that it was in a position to budget future cases and have a repeatable process. Whatever the matter, we have worked to create a tailored solution, each of which included talented attorneys. Without our attorneys walking in the door and delivering quality work product at a significant cost savings, we simply would not be in a position to say that so many attorneys choose to practice law in a non-traditional way.

Specifically in regard to e-discovery … we saw a real need, a way to bring all the parties together so that there was clear communication and everyone was truly working in the client’s best interest. We had the resources to offer great project management and excellent litigation attorneys dedicated to discovery; and we quickly found that the efficiencies and productivity we generated versus traditional methods were substantial. Building on that success, we’re committed to creating the best processes, hiring the right attorneys, putting them together in collaborative teams, staying abreast of the latest technologies, and listening to our clients’ wishes -- and ultimately saving them a lot of money. It’s quickly become a win-win situation.

It clearly took clients working with our attorneys on employment, contracts or IP matters to begin the conversation about their discovery challenges. But as our discovery approach has been tried and tested in recent years, the result is that in-house departments now work only with companies like ours on e-discovery – or ask outside counsel to work with us -- and in the process have uncovered additional ways our attorneys and our approach can help their respective companies. So it’s been a circular route to get us to where we are today, a place where more opportunities are available for our attorneys.

Interestingly enough, recently several law firms have publicly stated that they plan to use more contract attorneys (as, unfortunately, they simultaneously announce associate layoffs). Quite candidly, Counsel On Call was originally focused on helping law firms; having practiced in a law firm I understand the economics of hiring associates. This shift is good news for in-house departments who will have more flexibility in cost containment with outside counsel – our law firm clients have been ahead of the curve in this regard in recent years, and have reaped benefits from it. And although there have been many factors at play to get to this point, there is unquestionably a direct link to e-discovery and how value became a central theme as the segment matured. Law firms have realized that their business model needs attention and, to their credit, many former naysayers are now looking for ways to fix it with their clients’ best interests in mind.

I still believe a blended model will ultimately prevail in our profession. I still believe that in-house counsel – lawyers who are forced to make budgetary decisions that revolve around quality legal representation -- will drive change (and currently are). And I still strongly believe that when outside counsel, in-house counsel and Counsel On Call work collaboratively, everyone wins: the lawyers looking for a different way to practice, the law firm partner who can get back to a true ‘partner’ role, and the client who gets the benefit of reduced costs and maximized resources.
 

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