Corporate counsel may in many cases first solicit personal recommendations from other corporate counsel or outside counsel to assist them in identifying outside counsel for larger matters and transactions. At some point, however, public and objective information about firms will need to be gathered and evaluated – in anticipation of a board review, or when several equally talented firms or individuals have presented their credentials in response to a request for proposal, or, what is perhaps even more critical, when a global company needs a lawyer or firm outside their country’s headquarters or usual channels of business. What objective resources exist that indicate the depth and experience of a particular lawyer and firm, and how can you get useful data from sources traditionally deemed as most reliable?
Websites teem with accolades and purple prose – but up-to-date, detailed experience lists are the piece of information in-house counsel need to make a proper evaluation of a lawyer or firm's actual, on-point experience. Your potential firm’s CMO or director of business development can prove tremendously valuable here. If you call upon them to augment any of the information that you have found, you will immediately receive specific information to help in your decision making, and it will be returned to you as tailored as you wish it to be.
Media mentions are a terrific way to evaluate the depth of a lawyer's experience in a particular area. Perhaps counterintuitively, mentions in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal – or appearances on cable news – do not, however, prove that someone is "best in class.” Ephemeral mentions are often the result of professional media support. Cable news, in particular, needs a lot of fodder in a 24-hour news cycle.
Instead, look at the places where a lawyer really has to flex her muscles and work hard to prove her relevance and substance. Review trade organizations for memberships as well as their related publications Check to see how your potential lawyer has carved out a consistent space or brand for herself in the places you as an expert get your industry news. The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel’s monthly print edition and website features articles and interviews relevant to corporate counsel, and you are likely to find an article or interview by a lawyer dealing with the issue that concerns you at the time. In fact, The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel’s intensive coverage of meetings of Lawyers for Civil Justice, at which important litigation issues are discussed by legal experts from around the country, is a marvelous example of substantive engagement. If your lawyer engages seriously on a topic, you will find her quoted or appearing in appropriate industry verticals regularly. That is the person who knows the space. You want her on your team.
Here’s an industry secret that is well-understood by legal marketers. It’s nearly impossible to get lawyers to participate in a seminar or speaking engagement if they are not extraordinarily comfortable with the subject or matter. Sure, there are always a few optimists who claim that they can hop on the stage and explain operating systems to Bill Gates in a flash, but they are the exception. I can say with confidence that a lawyer’s or firm’s participation in a program – especially a large-scale industry event – means that they actually occupy that space. As with the trade publications I mentioned, look to see which firms or individuals are participating in industry versus law conferences. If you meet a lawyer at the Food and Beverage Association conference – and he is speaking – you have hit gold. Individuals such as these are in your space legitimately and have a genuine desire to be part of your world, matters and issues. Hire them.
Ah, yes. Directories and lawyer rankings. As in-house counsel, you have undoubtedly received countless (and possibly bashful) requests from your outside lawyers to say nice things when the ever-increasing number of legal directories start pelting you for reference requests. As moderately useful as directories might be, some of them have achieved enough success that they really no longer want to engage much with firms to analyze the continuously changing spectrum of specialists in their fields. One of the antidotes to this mass marketing of directories is the revitalization of a smart group at a company called Law Dragon. Law Dragon is looking to engage you as a buyer of legal services in serious conversations and roundtables on the subject of service. Look out for them. They just might beat the big shops that keep pinging you for reference checks at their own game.
Finally, it’s always useful to take a look at your bar association committee lists, as well as teaching schedules at PLI, to see who may have a long track record in your specialty area. Happy selecting!
Carolyn A. Sandano has led marketing and business development efforts at AmLaw 20 firms for over two decades, and will gladly provide objective insights to in-house counsel on any issue concerning the marketing of lawyers and firms. Please reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.