You could almost hear Twisted Sister "singing" "We're not going to take it...anymore" at the Legal Marketing Association's national conference last month when Susan Hackett, General Counsel of the the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Laura Stein, Chairperson of ACC, along with two other ACC members met with hundreds of law firm marketers to explain their approach to escalating rates of outside counsel.
In a ninety minute presentation and discussion, Hackett outlined the pressures and realities facing in-house counsel, specifically, increased pressure to contain and predict legal costs and their frustration with double-digit rate increases, off-the-scale associate salaries (and corresponding hourly rates), a perceived unwillingness by law firms to discuss alternative fee arrangements and create lower-cost methods to provide lower-value (commodity) legal services.
To paraphrase, they said, "we're not going to take it anymore". Hackett and Stein have created an initiative within ACC to explore ways to re-define the relationship in-house GC's have with out-house firms. This new committee will develop a set of best practices to recommend to ACC members. ACC will sponsor seminars to teach GC's how to reduce outside attorneys costs, manage matters to budget, consolidate (or 'converge') the myriad of law firms some companies use to a small 'core counsel' cadre of firms, and stratify legal work so that only the high-end/high-value work goes to high-cost firms and commodity work is handled on a lower cost basis.
Details were short at the meeting, but emotions were high. The panel of in-house counsel differed on exactly what they wanted from their lawyers, but the agreed that lawyers and firms should work harder to understand what their clients wanted and they should create a relationship custom to those requirements.
What will come from this rebellion (and that's the word used in the LMA Conference brochure, btw)? Hard to say, but I was impressed that four big-wigs from ACC spent a day at the LMA conference, not including travel time, to clearly articulate their frustration with the community of outside counsel and fire the warning blows over the bow of the $1,000/hour battleship created by our largest law firms.
Implications for biglaw? Figure out - fast - what your clients want, including how to be billed, what work they consider high-value, what behavior they are tolerant of (and not, including associates billing $450/hour or more) and their plans their plans for convergence and changing how they manage outside counsel. And after you listen, design a new way of serving them.
For those of you who have conveniently forgot about Twisted Sister, here's a refresher: