It’s almost time for the 2012 LMA National Conference, which helped me to remember that I had not yet posted a couple of great columns I wrote about last year’s conference.

One of the most well attended sessions each year at the LMA National Conference in the General Counsel Panel. In 2011, the panel consisted of Stephen B. Kaplan, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Connections, Inc.; John Lewis Jr., Senior Managing Counsel – Litigation at The Coca Cola Company; and Jeff L. Novak, General Counsel of AOl Paid Services; and was moderated by Tom Duggan, Group Publisher of InsideCounsel, and Cate Flahardy, Editor-In-Chief of InsideCounsel.

The panelists were smart, savvy and funny, providing both information and entertainment to the crowded room.

Law firms must figure out ways to institutionalize their clients.  In terms of value propositions, this is where it has to be. Being more targeted and strategic is what winning looks like. Firms must invest in business development and marketing.

They want to know who can be the most creative in getting the work done. “We got sued in New York,” John Lewis said. “One firm came to us and said they knew the judge and had beaten the opposing counsel.  I had heard that pitch before. But then they said, ‘We are so confident we can win a motion to dismiss, we’ve already drafted it. We’ll charge you a flat fee of $25,000 if we win. If we don’t win, you don’t have to pay us anything.’ I hadn’t heard that before.  That impressed me.” He hired the firm, which won the motion, and his company now uses the law firm.

GC’s want outside counsel to come in and tell them what they know about the GC’s business. Be prepared. It is unacceptable for outside counsel to not to know the potential client in advance.

When GC’s ask who a law firm is and what it’s about, the answer can’t be “Who do you want us to be?”  Know yourself and convey that.

“Marketing is a core competency that is missing among lawyers,” John Lewis said. “You can’t find unmet client needs unless you get to know the client. Law firms are spectacularly bad at asking ‘what keeps you up at night?'”

GCs need to know what is going on with their company and their industry at all times so they can be prepared when their CEO gets on the elevator with them.  GCs appreciate outside counsel who sends them information they need to know and help them to explain risks to their CEOs.


“Firms we have grown relationships with understand that cost is a big issue,” Jeff Novak said. It is the job of outside counsel to determine what a win looks like to their client and how they can make the client GCs look good.  Lawyers should be like a therapist to in-house lawyers and actively seek savings for those clients.  For example, look for work that can be transferred to paralegals.

“When my budget was cut, some law firms stopped calling,” Stephen Kaplan said. “Other firms thought about what complimentary things they could offer me, and make me look good in my desperate hour. These are the firms I will be hiring in the future.” Law firms charging $1,000 per hour have “self-selected themselves out of my work.”

“We have changed from a profession to group of vendors who compete against each other based on price, and that is a race to the bottom,” John Lewis said. “Think of the airlines. They used to compete against each other based on various levels of service.”

It is unacceptable for law firms not to be able to do analytics to determine a range of costs for standard matters.


Asking a GC whether or not diversity is important is like asking them if they care about the quality of your work.

The talent pool for diverse attorneys has never been larger or deeper. “Not having a diverse law firm is unforgivable,” Stephen Kaplan said. Corporation plan their sales for emerging markets and know how necessary it is for their teams to reflect the diverse world we live in.  “Law firms [are disconnected] with reality on that point.”

Author: lisawhitleycoleman