by Catherine Hausman
A capacity crowd of legal marketers turned out to learn what general counsel really like – and don’t like - when they interact with outside counsel at NYLMA’s 5th Annual GC Forum on October 27.
This year’s panel of general counsel represented a cross-section of businesses:
- Marla Alhadeff – Deputy General Counsel and Global Head of Litigation and Suspicious Activity Reporting at BNY Mellon
- Fabio Bertoni – General Counsel of The New Yorker magazine
- Kevin Finnegan – Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel at MetLife
Anthony Paonita, editor-in-chief of Corporate Counsel magazine, served as the moderator for the session, which was generously hosted this year at no charge to attendees by Bloomberg at its New York headquarters.
Mr. Paonita got right to the point, leading off with the question, “What turns you off or on about the law firm’s you work with?”
Responses in the positive column were: “Good communication,” “a problem-solving orientation,” “a team approach” and “appreciation for the role of in-house counsel.”
The GCs agreed that one of the biggest negatives is when lawyers avoid comment on a matter, claiming “that’s a business decision” when in-house counsel are really seeking insight from their external counsel.
It was no surprise when the panelists all declared that they don’t want surprises of any sort – especially those involving document production, witness depositions or billing.
The panelists emphasized the importance of building relationships and suggested ways to foster greater cooperation including secondments, working together on pro bono projects and CLE workshops.
The GCs emphasized their need to learn more and encouraged law firms to send out newsletters and client alerts on relevant topics. Even better, they said, is to have the ability to call external counsel and “pick your brain” off the clock.
For all the time law firms spend on Chambers and other legal industry rankings, the in-house counsel all declared they no value in them other than the rare instance where they might try to identify counsel in a distant locale.
The one award category they do care about is diversity. All the panelists agreed that diversity can be a differentiator when selecting external counsel.
When it comes to RFPs, the GCs reminded everyone that respondents need to focus specifically on what the client is seeking - e.g., experience in a particular area, experience in a particular court and/or experience with an adversary – rather than a general overview of the firm’s credentials.
Cybersecurity has been an increasing concern for in-house counsel with the ever-present threat of cybercrime. They all see cybersecurity as a core enterprise-wide risk and an important differentiator when it comes to choosing external firms. Firms will now need to make sure they no client information will be at risk through their own networks.
Other key takeaways from the 90-minute discussion included a plea to be pragmatic – “know what the client needs and make that your North Star.” In addition, the panelists reminded those from external firms to “pay attention to the end game,” “be goal oriented” and “tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear.” And all agreed that relationships matter at all levels, noting that many GCs were originally outside counsel.
Catherine Hausman is a senior writer/editor at Paul Weiss