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Why More Law Firms Should Be Playing in the Sandbox

It may be anathema to suggest that a law firm actually recommends a competitor for a specific job, but that is exactly what one senior General Counsel says should be occurring much more frequently.


Mark Chandler is  Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, and Chief Compliance Officer at Cisco Systems and he recommends more firms to “play in the sandbox” with other law firms.

Reported in Bloombergs, Chandler said:

“I think law firms will be more successful to the extent they play well in the sand box with other law firms. There are a lot of times where I’m looking for disparate skill sets. I’m not going to find it one place.

“In the law firm world all they’re ever telling you is the best lawyer you could ever possibly have for anything you could possibly imagine is someone else in their firm.

“It’s really important, especially in a big company, to be outside of the corporate headquarters bubble, listening to what customers want and realizing the things we do to manage our business that are convenient for us internally aren’t necessarily important to our customers.”

Bloomberg’s Big Law Business reported that companies like Cisco will require specialized help in particularly situations and will canvas the field to find the most effective “players”.

“You could end up with an employment law issue in, name a country, and then you need to hire a law firm. So we certainly open up a lot of engagements that way.

“In terms of larger engagements with U.S. law firms or global law firms, it really depends on having some kind of specialized expertise that fits a particular need we have.

“So if it’s litigation for instance, it’s useful to know if someone previously had litigation over that particular patent, or knows the other side’s counsel very well, or if they’ve litigated a similar issue before, so that you’re benefiting from a learning curve that’s already out there.

Big Law Business: Outside of those special situations where you go looking for someone, what’s the best way for firms to approach you? Do you pay attention to marketing materials?

Chandler: The marketing stuff is sometimes useful, and I’ll circulate it occasionally. I’ll see something in a newsletter and say, “Well this is interesting. We should call this guy and learn more about it.”

So the marketing materials are marginally useful. But they have too much of it, and I generally am hitting the unsubscribe button more than I used to, because they’re not targeted to when I need it.

The personal outreach is particularly ineffective. You know, I really don’t need to go to dinner and sports events with people I barely know instead of being with my family, especially if their main interest in it is wallet share.

One of the ways that we developed a relationship with Skadden is that they did a wonderful job of creating opportunities for in-house counsel to work on pro bono matters.

Pro bono participation is very important not only in terms of our company culture, but also for the happiness and job satisfaction of the lawyers on my team. We started working with some great people at Skadden on some of their pro bono activities, and that was a great chance to get to know the firm better, which I hadn’t had much experience with.

Big Law Business: Aside from the innovations we’ve already talked about, how have you seen the relationship between inside and outside counsel change?

Chandler: I think leaders of law firms need to look at what their competitive advantages are and focus on those in a way that allows for them to provide the most efficient and best services to their clients.

That may mean you look and say, “We shouldn’t have a lot of associates doing this. We should hire contract attorneys, or maybe there’s a technology solution that works better.”

I think law firms have largely looked historically at inputs instead of outputs. And the inputs have largely been people time. The more they can put inputs in the more money they make.

I think general counsel are starting to look more at outcomes and solutions. What’s the solution I’m looking for? What’s the best way to get there? What’s the team I need to get there?

I think law firms will be more successful to the extent they play well in the sand box with other law firms. There are a lot of times where I’m looking for disparate skill sets. I’m not going to find it one place.

The law firm compensation model is driven around having lawyers try to drum up other work for their firms. I’m often approached by people who I trust to do good work, who are coming to me and trying to explore why I should hire their firm to do some other work for me, work that I have being done by very good lawyers already usually.

When they come to me with that, I’ll often say, “Tell me why I should fire my existing lawyer? What are they doing wrong that you’re going to do better? Why are you really better than the umpteen other firms who have very similar practices?”

This interview is obviously going to cost me a lot of dinner and sporting event invitations, but the marketing approach is often to figure out some way to get my personal time spent with some other lawyer who’ll leverage the personal relationship I have with someone already.

And then the lawyer who’s trying to drum up the business, who I’m working with already, gets a share of the billings when I hire another lawyer in the firm.

Source:  Bloomberg

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