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CA, Inc., Alexander Arato, VP and Associate General Counsel, December 2009

CA is one of the world’s largest IT management software providers. It develops and markets information technology (IT) management software, which it sells both directly via its sales team and indirectly via systems integratorsvalue-added resellers, and other service providers. www.ca.com

Q: If you think about your best relationships with outside counsel over time, what are three important things other lawyers could learn from them?        

A: One, deadlines are not guidelines. Two, neither one of us knows everything. We will work better when we both recognize that our relationship is based on a mutual exchange of information and opinions. Three, your cost structure is none of my concern. I do care deeply, however, about what I get charged for the work that is performed.  A fair price is all that I ask for. But once we agree to it, that is the price.

Q: And, of course, the follow-up: what are the top three things that lawyers could learn from your least successful relationships with outside counsel over the years? 
A:
 Not surprisingly, it is the converse of the above. My most particular pet peeve is the outside lawyer who sends a document that requires immediate review without taking any steps to ensure that I am available.  On more than one occasion, I have had to have our counsel obtain a continuance given that I was not available when the counsel presumed that I would be available to review the materials. Similarly, lawyers who have a one size fits all solution to a complicated issue that may not work for me tend not to have a thriving relationship with me. Lastly, complaining about the difficulties of e-discovery, changes to the profession, outsourcing, and offshoring are not appreciated. These challenges are realities we need to constructively deal with. Why would I call somebody who wants to waste my time complaining about how things used to be?

Q: What’s the smartest thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you outside of doing great legal work?
A:
 A law firm that we approached to handle an intellectual property matter pitched us regarding the specific expertise of one of its partners regarding the product niche at issue. When we informed the firm that it was not selected to handle the matter, the firm expressed its regret at our decision, but still offered to make the partner available as needed to work with the firm we did retain so we could receive the benefit of his product expertise. This was as appreciated as it was unexpected, and went a long way towards solidifying the attorney client relationship.

Q: Are there any client service or business development trends you’re seeing among law firms that you think are headed in the right direction?
A:
 Alternative billing arrangements are long overdue and exceedingly welcome. The hourly rate structure does not foster the alignment of interests and the cost certainty (or at least predictability) that should be the hallmark of an optimal engagement. Client service teams with members who have actually taken the time to understand who I am, what I expect, and the nature of my business are also valuable in attracting broader client relationships. 

Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A:
 The sense of entitlement to raise billing rates each year and to charge for all manner of expenses. This pressure to increase billing rates and maximize profits at my expense has continued unabated in the past year notwithstanding substantial lip service to the contrary.

Q: Have you ever fired a major provider of legal services or have you ever had internal suggestions that you should fire a major provider?
A:
 We have reluctantly terminated counsel when the quality of the work that we have received does not meet with our expectations notwithstanding our efforts to address and resolve our concerns more proactively and constructively. As we raise our concerns about the quality and value of the work that is being performed, we need to hear something more than “trust me.” We need our concerns candidly acknowledged and addressed because it is critical that we have complete faith in the professionals that we hire to represent us. When we lose that faith, all else is ultimately lost. 

Q: Would it have been helpful if somebody other than the relationship partner proactively requested your feedback and then acted on it, perhaps annually? 
A:
 The relationship partner in certain instances has no day to day involvement in handling my matters. I am happy to discuss my feedback with anybody who is willing to listen but who is also familiar enough with the relationship and my matters to suggest ways that we can each improve upon our working relationship.

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