Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As is the value of a service or product.
How do we determine the value of the service provided by, or the relationship we share with, outside counsel?
Here is where brilliant in-house counsel and rainmakers define themselves. No one takes for granted that their definition of value is shared on the other side of the table. Certainly, we already have values in common or a meeting of the minds simply would not have occurred. But launching into a matter – especially a litigation issue that could have legs for the foreseeable future – requires a conversation around values that the client company has defined as critical to its success. And this definition of company values will determine how well an outside counsel is judged to have been effective – and valued.
How does the discussion of a company’s values differ from the discussion about desired results? The discussion around values is the framework for the dialogue about results:
I think that in-house counsel need to lead this charge. Outside counsel really have been paid, historically, to focus on results (emphasis added), and very few with whom I have worked have been invited when the branding and core value discussions are being outlined in their client companies. This is not necessarily an approach that will net you the best results in today’s marketplace. In the end, all a company really has is its brand. Watch the food and beverage companies for clues as to how to effectively manage brands. Notice where they invest their charity dollars, how they manage corporate responsibility programs and even how they respond when a consumer states on Facebook that their waffles, say, weren’t nearly as tasty as the competing brand’s. In an ever-growing, competitive global marketplace with shrinking margins, not defining your values and managing your brand means that someone else will snap up your market position and eat your lunch.
Bring in your outside counsel when the discussion turns to values and brand so that they can offer you solutions consistent with your market position and the values your company embodies. Imagine the difference in the types of solutions that they can offer you when they have heard the C-level discussions on what the company stands for – especially in relation to its competition. As in-house counsel, you can also ask for this type of education to be done on a flat fee basis so that you can control costs. Interestingly, it might also help you to make this type of education available to more than one outside counsel team to see how it impacts their dialogue and ideas before launching a transaction or matter. The ones who absorb your messages and suggest solutions for the longer-term health of your brands and company in general could give you great advantages.
Outside counsel can’t provide value, as expressed as a benefit, unless they understand the core values on which your company operates. Lead the charge and invite them in: make them a true partner in your thinking. It is very likely that their understanding of your company’s values will increase the value of their service to you exponentially.
Carolyn Sandano has led marketing efforts for several AMLaw 20 firms in the last several years. She is Secretary, Board of Directors of the Legal Marketing Association's Metro NY Chapter. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.