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Life Technologies Corporation, John A. Cottingham, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary, January 2011

Life Technologies is a global biotechnology tools company providing premier systems, consumables, and services for scientific researchers around the world. Life Technologies customers conduct their research across the biological spectrum, working to advance personalized medicine, regenerative science, molecular diagnostics, agricultural and environmental research, and 21st-century forensics.

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: First is that I know I can trust the attorney to have my best interests at heart – there is nothing more poisonous to the relationship than for the attorney to do more billable work, write more memos, etc., than I ask for. If I can trust him or her to know when to go, when to stop and when to ask for direction, it makes a great foundation to the relationship. Second is quality of the advice provided. I want someone who can bring true expertise and insight to the assignment. Third is responsiveness. If I have to hunt down the answer this time, I am not nearly as likely to come looking for you next time.

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 think all of the failed relationships I’ve had with outside counsel could be described as failures to satisfy one or more of the criteria above. 

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 think it is helpful to outside counsel and to the relationship for counsel to develop good relationships with others in the company besides me. The flip side is that I hear it if a lawyer is badgering my in-house folks for work, so it has to happen at least somewhat naturally. But the stronger those relationships, and the more positive feedback I get about the work the firm does for us, the more likely I am to use them in the future.
     
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: Nothing comes to mind. I think law firms are mired in an old, tired business model that continues to drive people like me to do work in-house.

Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A:
 I think the whole pricing structure is problematic for in-house counsel. Partners’ rates range from expensive to exorbitant, junior associates’ rates are a good bit lower but are not commensurate with their level of expertise, and the whole structure inexorably creeps upward every year. It is just too often out of alignment with the value provided. Law firms could have a lot more business if they solved this problem in a manner that satisfies their clients.

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:
 Yes. I have refused to deal with one firm for years based on their representation of an opposing party in an M&A deal. In that case I felt that the attorneys were taking advantage of an unsophisticated client and fighting unnecessary battles that only provided esoteric victories to counsel, while increasing costs for both parties.

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: I think it should be helpful for law firms to get feedback from clients. But in my experience these types of interviews are time consuming for me and not particularly productive to the relationship. I think firms want to do a survey and feel good about their connection with clients. But I do not think they are interested in making the sort of changes that would be truly meaningful to clients.

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