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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: To me, the best relationships are those where I forget that my outside counsel are “outside.” Some of our providers are so good at understanding our business and anticipating our needs that it feels like they actually work here as part of our team. Their legal judgment is enhanced by their knowledge of the issues and the players, and they have a better sense of the sorts of solutions that not only resolve the immediate legal concern but also advance our business strategies. We think that working with people who are vested in our company’s success over the long term is a terrific business model (and a more rewarding way — for all of us, in my view — to spend our professional careers).
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: I don’t know if I can get to three, but I’ll tell you that the least successful relationships I’ve had with outside counsel all share one thing in common: a lawyer who decides to put his own interests (or his firm’s) ahead of his client’s interests. Every decision — regardless of whether it’s a strategic decision on a transaction, a decision on whether to recommend one of your colleagues in another office or department, or a decision regarding what litigation support vendor or hotel to choose — should be guided by the client’s best interests.
Q: What’s the smartest thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you outside of doing great legal work?
A: Listened. I think a lot of lawyers are focused on “making their case” for expanding the relationship. Very few lawyers actually listen and try to understand the challenges we are facing. Those who do (and those who find creative ways to help us meet those challenges) very quickly become our most valued partners.
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: I like the dialogue that seems to be developing between law firms and legal departments around the ACC’s Value Challenge. We’re starting to see, perhaps for the first time, a very real discussion about the current disconnect between the cost of legal services and the value attached to them. I’m not sure we’ll see the current model blow up any time soon, but I believe those firms who are looking for ways to partner with their clients and invent new models will find themselves at a competitive advantage going forward.
Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A: It’s not exactly a law firm trend, but I will tell you that I hear a number of my colleagues talking regularly about the increasing costs of data hosting and processing in the context of e-discovery. It’s another example of a model that flat-out does not work. The market simply will not allow those costs to spiral indefinitely, and I think you’ll start to see a few smart providers and law firms working to solve that problem in the near term.
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: My attorneys have a fair amount of discretion in choosing the lawyers with whom they work. From time to time, they do make major changes among their providers — though it is usually the result of a firm taking the relationship for granted or not responding appropriately to directional or personnel changes within our legal group. You may find that a given provider is a perfect fit under one scenario, but if our business strategies and objectives are changing (or the lawyer handling the matter internally changes), the provider needs to be adept enough (and communicative enough) to stay ahead of the curve.
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: For sure. I have been interviewed from time to time by law firm leaders and consultants, and it’s a very helpful opportunity to discuss the relationship more globally in a way that hopefully results in better client service. Your point about “acting on it,” though, is an important one. All of our lawyers are extremely busy, and we’re happy to devote time to giving feedback if it ultimately helps the relationship and allows our providers to serve us better — but if there is no follow-up action, you may as well not have asked for the feedback in the first place.