6 ways to build better relationships with outside counsel

Lauren Lee | September 2, 2016 | Articles

Part of the challenge as a general counsel is getting the best work out of your outside counsel for the best value. Even with good intentions, it doesn’t always pan out this way. Your priorities circle around company growth and mitigating risk, while their priority is to minimize liability.

These competing priorities can lead to disagreements between in-house counsel and their outside counsel support. Arguments over the quality of work, billing detail, and the way in which work is presented can drive a wedge between your company and the expert outside counsel that exist to give you the legal confidence to grow and thrive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Below are 6 ways to build strong relationships between your in-house team and your outside counsel.

1. Set Clear Expectations

As with any partnership, setting clear expectations is the key to success. Not only does it give you something to refer back to if things turn sour, but it should help you avoid those situations altogether. Start by issuing legal billing guidelines, and speaking with the lead at your outside counsel about the type of work you are expecting. One phone call can save you a dozen calls down the line. Let them know that you’re excited to be working together and outline the way you like to have work returned to you. Don’t like memos? Prefer an email? Let them know.

2. Reward Good Work

There’s a growing movement in the corporate legal world to negotiate alternative or fixed fee arrangements for work, with a monetary award for work completed with a successful outcome. If a motion to dismiss or a settlement offer at the outset of a litigation is successful, how much would that be worth to you? Would you even think about the hours?

This type of fee arrangement allows you to budget your spend more accurately and aligns your interests and the law firm’s interests. Rewarding good work doesn’t always need to be monetary. It can be a guarantee of future business as you grow, or even a bottle of wine at the end of a trying legal engagement. At the end of the day you’re working with people and often the smallest gestures can go the furthest. Learn how our customer ATTIC leveraged billing guidelines and legal technology to influence positive habits and reduce spend by 6%!

3. Pay Invoices on Time

If the firm has done a good job, both with the quality of their work and in their billing, then do all you can to get the invoice approved and paid as soon as possible. Firms will appreciate if you’re paying invoices on, or even, ahead of time. Showing that you appreciate good work by paying on time will encourage the firm to repeat the process. In the end, everyone wants to get paid. You can use a system like SimpleLegal to set up approval workflows so that invoices can glide through the approvals process and into accounts payable.

4. Refer Your Law Firms

If you’re impressed with the quality of work a firm has done for you, tell your friends and colleagues. Just as with any type of transaction, social referrals are one of the best ways to win new business. If you like what you see, be deliberate about sending clients their way, particularly those who have similar business problems. They’ve solved them for you, and they can solve them for others. At this stage you’re not just a client, but an active partner in their business.

5. Lawyers Are People Too

Just as with anything in life, if you give a little, you’re more than likely to get a little in return. Be conscious of your favorite attorney’s birthdays or important dates and drop a quick note over to them with congratulations. It may not see work turned around in days instead of weeks, or huge percentages cut off of your monthly bill, but it’s an important piece in building strong relationships with your outside counsel.

6. Leverage Technology

Services like SimpleLegal make it easy for you to build these relationships without interrupting your existing workflow. Store your contacts and start conversations with your firms within your legal billing platform. Better communication will always lead to more fruitful engagements with your outside counsel. You can also employ a vendor portal such as CounselGO, SimpleLegal’s free portal for vendors, to give the firm a platform to follow their invoices from submission to payment.

Whether you’ve been in the legal world for decades or are just getting started, these 6 tips can help make a huge impact in your relationships with outside counsel. And don’t forget to download our whitepaper, The Basics of Legal Vendor Management for more tips and strategies to help you get started.

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