Law Firm - Law Department Collaboration

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What can law firms and law departments do to collaborate with each other more effectively?

Altman Weil consultants offer their insights... 

We’re in this together

There needs to be a much better appreciation on both the law firm and the law department side that “we’re in this together.” That is, the legal function of a company or a non-profit organization is made up of internal and external legal services. They need each other. Rarely if ever does a company or organization only have one of these service-delivery components. The relationship should be approached, therefore, from the point of view of being partners in the effort to provide high-quality, cost-effective and seamless legal services to the underlying client, i.e., the company or non-profit organization.  --Jim Wilber

Let’s talk about what works

One step that very few law departments take with their primary law firms is a periodic exchange of improvement suggestions.  Collaboration would improve if, for example, once every six months the relationship partner and one other partner at the firm who works frequently with the client would take part in a conference call with the one or two in-house lawyers who direct work to the firm most often.  The agenda for the call could be something like:

  • "Here are several interactions or activities that went well during the past few months."
  • "Here were some things that didn't work smoothly.”
  • "Here are some ideas we have heard about that we would like to bring up regarding law department - law firm collaboration." 

The underlying idea gets away from annual "evaluations" of law firms by law departments, which can end up being time-consuming efforts that yield little. Second, it encourages law firms to point out what law departments do that hinder the most effective joint solution of legal issues.  Third, it focuses on positive steps to take in the future.  Fourth, the exchange of improvement solutions is frequent enough so that people can recall specifics, rather than make general statements about the somewhat-forgotten past.  --Rees Morrison

Recognize that every client is different

The client value proposition is the most important part of any law firm’s business model and it is changing significantly and rapidly. However, all clients are not the same - and neither is what they value.

It is not only a law firm’s obligation, but their greatest opportunity to take the initiative here. It’s not possible to say your firm is fully committed to the highest level of client value if you simply wait for the client to articulate what they want.

Law firms must be proactive in leading the conversation.  In many respects firms are better positioned to suggest new ideas and options that might add value and enhance collaboration. They should determine each client’s specific value proposition (beyond better, faster, cheaper) and then determine approaches, policies, methodology or technology solutions to make it happen. --Tom Clay

Work together to improve efficiency

Work together on how to better design work flows and allocate responsibilities for handling matters. --Jim Cotterman

Implement transparent and integrated project management processes to ensure efficient and effective legal services. --Dan DiLucchio

Talk about pricing options

Law firms should take the initiative in making alternative fee proposals to clients, discussing options and desired outcomes at the onset of each engagement. When lawyers and clients collaborate on scope, goals, methodology and price, both sides end up getting more of what they want, i.e. a better bottom line for firms and more predictability and control for clients. --Eric Seeger

Make connections

Law firms can embed their lawyers within the client organization to really understand how the business works and how the client thinks about its business. --Jim Cotterman

Law firms can invite law departments to assign in-house lawyers to major case or transaction teams. --Ward Bower

Succession planning is a huge issue in the profession as the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement.  Law firms and clients should be thinking routinely about how to ensure long-term stability in their relationships by actively developing and connecting future leaders as well as rank-and-file lawyers in both organizations. --Eric Seeger

Educate each other

Law departments can present "reverse seminars" for law firm's lawyers working on their matters, explaining their industry structure and position, the company's organization, business strategies and goals, their staffing and responsibilities, billing policies, and answering law firm questions.  --Ward Bower

Law firms can host clients at briefings on breaking and key legal topics affecting their businesses; or visit clients for training on key aspects of their industry and business.  --Jim Cotterman

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