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February 22, 2012

Client/firm collaboration: The case of Squire Sanders

A few months ago, we announced  that Squire Sanders was the first firm to sign up for our new client/firm collaboration workshops in legal project management (LPM).

Today, the results are in: It was absolutely amazing.  

The program was designed to facilitate collaboration between large law firms and their most important clients, by addressing the most fundamental question in the ACC Value Challenge: “Working together, how do we improve the value of legal services?”  

The key event was a half-day workshop at the client’s office with seven active participants:  the client’s General Counsel and three of his key staff, and three leaders of the Squire Sanders client team that serves them, Dave Grauer, Keith Shumate and Heather Stutz.  (The program was designed for six people to maximize interaction.  But this client felt it was important to add a seventh active participant, and so that is what we did.)  In addition, three other lawyers sat in to observe the discussion.

To start the day, we offered a brief overview of the eight key issues described in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  Then we began a structured brainstorming process to efficiently identify action items:  How could LPM principles quickly be applied to strengthen this particular relationship?  

The brainstorming produced a list of 19 action items.  The biggest category involved improved communication, including scheduling a “lessons learned” review session for one current matter, scheduling regular meetings for both the Squire Sanders team and for the in-house department, and scheduling a monthly call in which Squire Sanders briefed the client on legal trends in their industry, including ideas for enhancing revenue.

Other communication action items involved technology.  Some were very simple uses of existing systems, including setting up a new folder on the client’s network to simplify internal access to key documents.

A few involved new software solutions.  Squire Sanders has developed a custom-designed extranet database called MyMatter which provides easy access to such documents as case plans, court pleadings, witness lists, expert information, deposition summaries, engagement letters, budgets, invoices, and more. As a result of the workshop discussion, Squire Sanders has now begun implementing MyMatter for this in-house department, to provide them with immediate access to key documents in a single location.

Five of the 19 action items involved alternative fee arrangements (AFAs).  Both Squire Sanders and this client were interested in exploring non-hourly AFAs, and the brainstorming process identified several specific steps toward this goal, including making a list of new work where AFAs made sense to both sides.

Does that sound like marketing?  It should.  The client/firm collaboration workshop is designed to strengthen relationships and increase value.  Which is a pretty good definition of marketing.

During the workshop, specific individuals volunteered to be responsible for each of the 19 items.  Then, for the next 30 days, LegalBizDev principal Mike Egnatchik followed up with participants to provide advice on implementation, along with gentle reminders to assure that the action items were actually performed.  Oh, wait. In this case Mike actually followed up for 45 days instead of the 30 we had planned.  The original followup period started around Thanksgiving and the client wanted more time, so that is what we gave them.  

Mike is uniquely qualified to facilitate collaborative discussions like this because he has worked on both sides of the table: first as a practicing lawyer at Shearman & Sterling, and later as an Associate General Counsel at Xerox, where he was trained in problem-solving techniques and earned a Lean Six Sigma yellow belt.

After the followup was complete, we held a review telecon with the GC and the head of the Squire Sanders team.  Interestingly, the GC chose to attend that meeting in person at Squire Sanders’ office.  He was there to follow up on a variety of joint actions, including several that had grown out of the workshop.

Of course, clients and their law firms have always collaborated.  But this new workshop applies proprietary techniques to increase client satisfaction and collaboration efficiency and to take the relationship to a new level.  It helps law firms integrate services with their clients’ operations, and to deliver greater value to them.  Which is increasingly important in the new normal.  As Legal Onramp founder Paul Lippe noted in The Future of Legal Services (p. 30):

The practice of law has shifted from an individual effort to one emphasizing teamwork and collaboration…  When firms had a monopoly on expertise, delivery of service was a one-way street.  But now most work involves collaboration and coordination between firms and clients.

Were there any problems?  In my opinion, there was one big one:  The participants simply could not find enough time to reap all the benefits of LPM.  That challenge began the day the client agreed to the program and continued to the day it ended.  It took several months to find a date when these extremely busy lawyers could all meet in the same room for the workshop, and in the followup period deadlines sometimes had to be adjusted due to other more pressing matters.   

I was reminded of a series of posts that ran in the Association of Corporate Counsel blog about 18 months ago to “follow the promise and pitfalls of forming a new value-based client-firm relationship.”  In Part 16 of the series  Ken Grady, GC at Wolverine World Wide described the benefits of a program with Seyfarth, but then said:  

What did we not do well?  It took too long...  General counsel of small legal departments often… get pulled in a lot of directions with little real control over their schedule.

The fact that lawyers are busy is not exactly headline news.  But one of the strengths of the client/firm collaboration workshop is the fact that it recognizes this reality, and is designed to work around it.

Squire Sanders has already signed up to repeat this program with another client, and they are talking about adding more.





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The importance of such a co-active shaping of the attorney-client relationship cannot be sufficiently emphasized. In an instance where I was retained by an insurance company to defend against a claim against the insured, the carrier had failed to notify me that copies of my reports and pleadings were to be sent to the legal department the insured. The insured expressed considerable dissatisfaction when they discovered that the directive they had given to the insurance company was never communicated to me.

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