While a law firm’s performance is important, it’s the personal touch that can be a deciding factor for companies choosing external counsel, writes Smita Priyadarshini

The in-house legal team-external law firm dynamic is a classic example of a symbiotic business relationship. However, it is fair to say that this relationship has been rather static, and there is a stereotype that corporate legal teams simply want the best outcome for the lowest price, while law firms want to maximize billable hours.

However, a developing trend against this stereotype focuses on building relationships across industries and shifting emphasis from self-serving gains to mutual benefits. Law firms should take note that consumerism has taken root in the legal industry, too.

A solid work product is important and legal results no doubt top the list, but for a client to return and create repeat business for a firm, they must have a positive recollection of their interactions and believe the relationship is worth the investment. Clients are seeking assurance that their law firms are listening to them and are proactive in learning about their goals and overall business.

A company appoints a law firm to its legal panel for the firm’s expertise, but also because the firm is better placed to handle a large volume of legal work. This frees up the company’s in-house legal counsel to focus on other pertinent matters. For law firms it is a matter of prestige, and undeniably income, to be appointed to the panel of a large corporation or global company.

Securing a company client ensures a steady source of income, providing a predictable revenue stream to the firm. Many corporate lawyers working in law firms can handle a company’s business transactions such as negotiation, drafting and review of contracts and other agreements associated with the activities of the business, such as M&A, divestitures and labour-related issues.

They also advise clients on corporate governance and operational issues such as the rights and responsibilities of corporate directors and officers, and other general legal activities of the company. And they can assist clients with audit and/or financial information needed by stakeholders such as the board, employees and shareholders. Many empanelled law firms handle litigation matters for their
clients, too.

THE DECIDING FACTOR

Research has revealed that when dealing with outside counsel clients look for:

  • Expertise and experience;
  • Relationship and teamwork;
  • Business understanding.

Relationships take a deeper investment on the part of external counsel to effectively build and sustain. They do not start and end at business luncheons or dinners. It is a continual process of investing time, and going that extra mile. More often than not, this becomes the deciding factor for clients to zero in on a law firm for their legal panel. Staying informed about a company’s business priorities forms perhaps a quarter of a strong client-firm relationship equation.

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SMITA PRIYADARSHINI is the senior managing legal director at Dell.