Note: The following is a guest post by Timothy B. Corcoran.
As a management consultant who spends time with both law firms and law departments, I frequently feel like a marriage counselor or mediator who is constantly encouraging each side to better understand the other. Quite often, the laments and wish lists by in-house counsel and outside counsel are fundamentally the same. And often, even if these mutual interests are recognized, the parties don’t know how to capitalize on this knowledge.
Luckily, plenty of in-house counsel and law firm partners have tackled these issues already and have provided a roadmap for improved collaboration. After all, only through regular and deep collaboration will both parties fully realize the benefits.
1. Hard hat tour
Just as law departments admonish outside counsel for not understanding the business, business management admonish in-house counsel for not having a deeper understanding of operations, particularly the ever-present to produce while embracing continuous improvement. Schedule a factory tour, arrange time with site executives and line managers to provide brief insights into what matters to them.
2. Preferred Counsel Summit
Periodically gather representatives from the preferred counsel panel and key in-house contacts, invite business managers to participate, and tackle a thorny issue or two while staying abreast of internal and external trends that all stakeholders should monitor.
3. PI/PM Workshop
Conduct a joint workshop to embrace process improvement (PI) and project management (PM), particularly as these concepts apply to managing existing legal matters. Assign seats to ensure that every table is cross-functional and diverse to avoid group-think and to challenge the status quo.
4. Launch a Pilot
Identify notable processes or matter types for which improvements can generate meaningful financial returns, and then conduct a pilot to catalyze change. Incorporate all stakeholders, establish milestones, metrics, and accountability. Engage senior management to review progress and adjust incentives to reward contributors.
5. Design a Dashboard
Ask both parties to identify trouble spots, such as areas of poor communication or financial challenges, and jointly develop a dashboard to track performance. Demonstrate that continuous improvement casts a much wider shadow than merely cost cutting. Ensure that all parties measure the same performance metrics.
6. Lunch & Learn Webinars
Schedule periodic luncheon sessions, possibly by video or audio conference, where both parties provide insights on a topic of interest. Substantive legal areas are easy to identify, but more compelling topics tackle the challenges of collaboration, e.g., managing matters across borders, communicating scope changes, reducing delays and waiting between project phases, staffing, and more.
7. Design an RFP
Unwind and demystify the arduous process of outside counsel selection by collaborating on the design of your next RFP. What do we care about, what do we measure, what information is necessary to define the scope of a matter, what value do we place on various tasks, etc. Diligently eliminate unnecessary questions, emphasize demonstrations of experience over credentials and deal lists, make it shorter and more impactful.
A notable feature of each of these ideas, or others like them, is that either party, in-house counsel or outside counsel, can take the lead. It’s less important to assign credit for the idea, and more important to reap the rewards. Now… who’s going to pick up the phone?
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Timothy B. Corcoran is a past President of the Legal Marketing Association and an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change. Contact @tcorcoran / 1.609.557.7311 / email@example.com.
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Photo: Flickr, Ed Schipul, SXSW 2015 Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)