As companies grow and their legal needs evolve, chief litigation officers often find themselves in need of different or additional law firms to support their efforts. Choosing new outside counsel is no small task. There are certainly plenty of options, but it can be difficult to find a perfect fit in a timely manner. Moreover, once a new counsel is in place, managing that relationship in a way that best serves the company can be equally difficult. Below are some strategies to help identify the right counsel for the business and give you the best odds for a positive relationship going forward.
To find the right counsel, you first need to create a checklist of qualities that are most important to you and your department. If creative billing options are important, identify firms that have experience in, or are willing to entertain, alternative fee arrangements. Consider also firm locations, expertise in the areas that may matter to you in the future, and firm size. In some instances, you may require a firm that specializes in a particular substantive area; in others, you may need a firm with enough prestige to protect you against Board criticism if things go wrong. In any case, you must understand what is most important before you begin making decisions.
If creative billing options are important, identify firms that have experience in, or are willing to entertain, alternative fee arrangements.
Once you know what you need, develop interview questions that will help you determine whether the firm shares the core values you seek in your counsel. Some useful fodder for this exercise includes situations in which you were dissatisfied with prior counsel. By presenting prospects with negative scenarios that you have experienced, you can get a sense of how their approach to handling your pain points compares to other firms, which is invaluable in making a decision that serves your interests well.
Once you find your new counsel, you are hardly assured of an optimal relationship. Rather, it is important to take the time to set up the relationship for success. The first step along this path is negotiating an agreement that meets your needs. If alternative fee arrangements are important, work to agree upon a standard that can be applied for as many services as possible. After the contract is finalized, sit down and speak with counsel about your preferred work flow on the matters you anticipate and the ones you do not. In addition, put in place mechanisms to evaluate performance and communicate your satisfaction or lack thereof during regular intervals.
Put in place mechanisms to evaluate performance and communicate your satisfaction or lack thereof during regular intervals.
As with other relationships, your relationship with outside counsel requires attention and occasional fine-tuning, and the relationship must continue to offer value to both parties in order for it to make sense. To ensure that you and your outside counsel continue to experience a healthy relationship over time, find an opportunity to meet periodically to discuss the broader goals of each of your organizations, as well as how they may have shifted over time. Organizational visions and missions change over time, and it is important to know to what extent yours may be drifting from those of your counsel. In addition, consider a more in-depth periodic meeting to talk through what has and has not worked over time, as well as how each of you can better serve the interests of the other. To the extent that the relationship has outlived its use, be honest with each other and consider moving on.
No relationship with even the most qualified counsel is perfect, and not taking the right steps early can make a promising prospect a headache in the long run. Once you find capable firms, making an effort to ensure a positive productive tone between you and the partner will yield the litigation department significant dividends.