YourABA: June 2013
YourABA September 2013 Masthead

How to better serve corporate clients

In a question-and-answer format, two panels — one of litigators and one of general counsel — addressed concerns about managing staffing matters and fee arrangements at the Annual Meeting. The panels met at the program “How Law Firms Can Better Serve Their Corporate Clients — and Get and Keep Their Business” on Friday, Aug. 9.

The panels were moderated by Robert L. Haig of New York.
On the litigators panel were William F. Alderman, San Francisco; Robert E. Bostrom, McLean, Va.; Cedric Chao, San Francisco; Sanford L. Hartman, San Francisco; and Marc B. Victor, Kenwood, Calif. On the general counsel panel were Melanie S. Cibik, Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Paul D. Delva, San Jose; Michael A. Dillon, San Jose; Bruce A. Ericson, San Francisco; Edward S. Grenville, San Francisco; Bart L. Kessel, Los Angeles; and Edwin B. Medlin, San Jose.

Alderman began by pointing out the importance of early assessment of a case. “We work to chart out the most cost-effective path,” he said.

Victor said that “decision trees” can be used for cost analysis. “This can be done very early,” he said. “You map out what the key issues are going to be. The firm should have a plan to evaluate a case early on.”

When two or three firms are competing for business and the corporate client asks for an estimate, what does a responsible firm do? Haig asked.

“A good client will want the firm to be as realistic as possible,” Victor said. “If they don't think they've got a great case,” then they need to be upfront with the client.

Ideally, the relationship should be a partnership, Bostrom said, rather than an attempt by the firm to get large discounts.

When it comes to staffing, litigation is a process, and you can't understand where you're spending money until you break it down, Hartman said.

“It comes down to having a good captain on the boat,” Chao said. “Who do I think works effectively and efficiently?”

Diversity is critical to staffing both for firms and the companies that hire firms, panelists agreed. Hartman said he tracks metrics on staff diversity, including looking at who becomes partners.

Lawyers are “the forces of social change” when it comes to promoting diversity, Chao said.

Embracing technology is important as well, Dillon added, to drive down costs for clients. Dillon primarily uses email and text messages to communicate and employs an electronic signature product rather than a fax machine.

Meeting clients' financial needs through alternative fee arrangements has become increasingly important, panelists said.

More clients are seeking alternative fee arrangements versus discounts to billable rates, Grenville said.

  This program was sponsored by the Business Law Section.

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