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Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc., David Benck, Vice President and General Counsel, April 2010

Interview with David M. Benck,Vice President & General Counsel, Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc.

Hibbett Sports® is a rapidly-growing operator of sporting goods stores in small to mid-sized markets predominantly in the Southeast, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest regions of the United States. With over 750 stores in 24 states, Hibbett Sports® has established itself as a successful sporting goods company. Q: If you think about your best relationships with outside counsel over time, what are three important things other lawyers could learn from them?  

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: The most important things outside counsel need to do to establish a great relationship are (1) to be prompt and responsive in communications. I know I’m not your only client, but if I can always reach you promptly, I at least feel like an important client; (2) to make the effort to understand the client’s business and objectives. You cannot plan an effective response for the client if you do not know the client’s goals and objectives. Don’t assume a cookie cutter approach to a problem; (3) to work for the client’s interests, not your own.

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: The least successful relationship I’ve had with outside counsel involve firms that (1) failed to communicate with the client so that the client did not know what was going on, and naturally, the outside counsel could not understand the client’s goals, (2) assumed they knew what was best for the client without ever learning the client’s objectives, and (3) fought over fees. Clearly they were self-interested and short-term oriented.
Q: What’s the smartest thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you outside of doing great legal work?
A:  I have had two firms provide work for me on a complimentary basis. In one instance, I had no working relationship with any law firms in a southeastern state in which the client was sued. I was referred to a firm that I retained without knowing too much about them. After they filed the initial Answer, the Plaintiff dropped the suit for unknown reasons. The firm sent a letter waiving all fees. They became my go-to firm for that state.

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: As a geographically diverse retailer, staying abreast of legal changes at the Federal, State and Local level is one of my challenges. Webinars and e-mail briefings are a useful and much appreciated client service. Also, third-party client surveys and feedback initiatives enable me to quickly, efficiently, and honestly provide feedback that hopefully improves the quality of the work and the relationship.

Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A: No

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: I have fired firms in the past. One firm was terminated when the firm demonstrated itself to be more interested in itself and its billings than the client’s interests.

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: Yes, since it is the “relationship” partner, often those relationships become friendships and tend to be non-confrontational. Rather than let resentment over small pet peeves or annoyances fester, it would be preferable if law firms had in place systematic client feedback programs in which a neutral third party conducts interviews on behalf of the firms with their key client relationships to get very candid feedback on the firm’s performance and service.

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