Recap: Working With My Law Firm(s): The New Dynamics

This was probably the most animated session during the two-day event - maybe it was the cocktail reception and songwriter's night that was to follow.

More likely, it was the issue at hand. The in-house attorneys in the room were all under at least a minimal amount of pressure to contain costs, and everyone had clearly examined their outside counsel relationships recently. The panelists had each taken different steps to modify their relationships with outside counsel, and each seemed to be pleased with the direction these relationships were heading.

Working With My Law Firm: The New Dynamics
Panelists: Senior attorneys from International Paper, SunTrust Banks, CVS Caremark
Moderator: Candice Reed (Executive Director, Counsel On Call)

Summary of Dialogue
Themes: Make your voice heard with outside counsel; We hold the power; We often know more about e-discovery than law firms do; Law firms need to budget/plan and work with the vendors we choose

Panelists began the session detailing how they, and many in the legal profession, believe that the law firm model is broken. The dialogue with the audience began immediately once this subject was broached, and many shared anecdotes about their relationships with outside counsel.

With that framework, one panelist said it’s important for a law firm – even firms you’ve been working with for years – to know you will walk away if their pricing or services are not inline with your needs. His department has moved to bidding out all of its work, and every law firm knows that there are at least two or three other firms bidding – and this has changed the way law firms look at the company (in a positive way). It has not changed the quality level of the work they receive (also positive).

Another panelist took this further and stated that involving her law firm in the decision-making process on the company’s e-discovery was not the best decision. The firm’s e-discovery committee was not up to the task, they did not have a disciplined approach and said that no matter who reviewed the company’s documents (namely: discovery attorneys), they were going to re-review them in order to sign off on the agreement.

Panelists them reiterated that in-house counsel must be willing to say, “Give me what I want” and stand up to law firms when necessary.

One specific anecdote that was shared with the group involved a recent conversation with a law firm partner, who was leading a company’s litigation strategy. The attendee loved the value he was getting from that partner, even at $500 per hour. But what he did not like – and what he wanted the partner to understand – was that along with every hour in that partner’s time came another $600 per hour in two junior associates a paralegal.

Another panelist said that we are in an evolutionary period right now, and that law firms must get their value proposition in order. He calculated that his company pays its in-house attorneys $150 per hour; if a law firm associate is doing work for his company, it needs to be at that price or less or it’s not worth it – they will do it in-house or use another vendor. Another panelist said a good practice is to staff a department at 80% of volume at $150 per hour.


From the audience, an attendee stated that she feels like she is educating law firms on every new case; they don’t know what a review protocol is, they don’t know how to track efficiency, and they are “very unsophisticated” when it comes to discovery. The group agreed, with one attendee stating that the way law firms manage a case and approach the discovery process is “with Concordance and brute force.”

The conversation then turned to law firm discovery centers. Several examples were provided, with one attendee citing one in which she “never saw the documents, but hasn’t heard anything bad” and a second matter in which she reviewed the documents and “it was horrible.” Another attendee said she had a good experience with one such center, but it was at three to four times the price she can do it for with Counsel On Call. One panelist remarked that the mark-up on these centers is ridiculous and sometimes uses the exact same attorneys as a company like Counsel On Call, which charges a very minimal mark-up.

One panelist said his department has the following requirements of law firms:

  1. No more than one lawyer at a deposition, hearing or event … he gets lots of pushback on this from the firms. (“Who will handle my papers?” I will, he says.)
  2. No first-year associates

Another panelist likes to budget matters over 90-day periods, and by asking law firms to do the same, the in-house department is able to determine what work can be done in-house that the law firm is budgeting. Another panelist stated that this approach – asking the law firm to plan – is a very positive step. The panelist also stated that staffing on any matter has to be approved and that the firm has to work with any third-party vendor the in-house department chooses (discovery attorneys or otherwise).

DS1.0 - Day 2 Begins

8:25am
What a day yesterday was here at the Discovery Symposium in Nashville - my brief posts here can't do it justice. The programming ended with an incredible discussion about the new dynamics of working with law firms ... Brian Edwards (SunTrust), Brian Cadwallader (International Paper) and Jennifer Molinar (Caremark) share some incredible insight and experiences with the group, and not surprisingly this led to a very spiritied discussion. Possibly the most interesting tidbit was regarding the bidding out of every significant matter; Brian Edwards spoke about how beneficial this has been and how his firms understand that SunTrust will walk away if they aren't getting the price/services they're after. The group was intrigued by this and asked several pointed questions.

Some of us (namely me) are probably still a little groggy after enjoying the evening's songwriter's night ... Don Schlitz, who has penned 24(!!!!) No. 1 hits, was kind enough to entertain us. Don is a friend of one of our attorneys, and his wife is also an attorney -- so he had a steady stream of lawyer jokes ready for us, which is always fun.

I'll post more later today...

4:15pm
Everyone is on their way home now, probably somewhat exhausted after another substantive day to close out the Symposium ... we started with a powerhouse panel -- Sue Dyer (HCA), Marty Mazzone (Fidelity Investments), Heather Munday (Georgia Pacific) and Kristen Weathersby (Cox Communications), moderated by Counsel On Call's Candice Reed -- discussing how to create your own discovery team. Over 2.5 hours, these women really broke down how their processes work, who is involved, the challenges they've faced, mistakes they've made and what's most important. Each panelist was asked "If you're just now starting to assemble your discovery team, what would be the first thing you would do?" The unanamous answer was "identify the person in IT who is going to be by my side throughout this process and make things happen." These women were very, very impressive as a group and individually, and as I remarked to someone: "You can see we have some great resources to learn from here at Counsel On Call." We were really pleased that so many people got to hear the information/opinions that we have access to every day.

And that seemed to be a common theme ... our post-event survey responses indicated that there haven't been many (if any) events like this one, that the program was relevant and informative, and truly in the 'best practices' mindset. My biggest takeaway is that in-house attorneys are genuinely excited about the value they can provide to their company in the discovery realm, and many shared some great stories about the reactions they've received when showing the cost savings of the processes they've implemented.

A great event all around ... we'll post some of the best practices that were discussed during the event soon.