In January, Cisco’s General Counsel Mark Chandler gave a speech at Northwestern’s Securities Regulation Institute that made major headlines.  Because several in-house friends and colleagues have mentioned it to me recently, I thought it was worth a post.  Anyone involved in the private practice of law should take the time to read it.  It highlights an issue that is critical to achieving a client’s desired results and to developing a strong relationship between a client and its outside counsel — aligning the interests of the counsel to those of the client.  Chandler’s speech resonates with me because when I was in-house, I struggled to align my outside counsel’s interests with those of my company.  It seems that it should be an easy task, but many outside counsel do not get it. 

Here is an excerpt from the speech:

From the law firm think perspective, “sales” too often means a one to one relationship with a lawyer who bills by the hour. As a client, I can tell you what I want to buy is access to information, strategy, and negotiation, and, in the case of litigation, to courtroom skill as well.

There’s a fundamental misalignment at work here. Law firms cannot afford to own the business risks of their clients, have a lot of employees to pay and also have to allocate the limited resources of extraordinary star partners. On the other hand, we clients want access to information and counseling and want to pay for value received. Put most bluntly, the most fundamental misalignment of interests is between clients who are driven to manage expenses, and law firms which are compensated by the hour.

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F]irst, winners will be those who are able to standardize services to meet clients’ cost management and predictability needs where very good is good enough. Second, those who can differentiate themselves by providing the top notch of customized services, where that is needed, will also win. 

As you can see, it is very provactive.  Private practitioners should read the speech, I can assure you your clients are reading it.  For further discussion and analysis check out:

WSJ Law Blog

Legal Blog Watch

shlep:  the Self-Help Law ExPress

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