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Scotia Investments, Robert Patzelt, General Counsel, February 2009

Scotia Investments Limited, is a private investment holding company overseeing a diverse manufacturing conglomerate and other key financial investments and is owned by the Jodrey family of Canada.

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: They were knowledgeable about our company and mindful of our needs as inhouse counsel. They were respectful of me and especially my staff regardless of their level in the organization. We do not tolerate treating any of our people poorly. They had a quick response time recognizing that the need for good answers in a timely way are of more value than the perfect answer weeks later.

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: In-house counsel hire people not firms. If your people do not perform they will be removed and if it is bad enough, the firm will be removed. In business we have to earn our customers each and every day and some lawyers take having the file for granted. Finally, it is my file not yours. Outside counsel are professionals hired to provide assistance in solving a problem. They have to be problem solvers not problem handlers.

Q: What’s the smartest thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you outside of doing great legal work?
A: Two things. One, come visit our facilities to understand our business or see the assets we are buying as part of the transaction. It shows an interest in what we do but also ensures you know what it is that this transaction/business is really about. Do it on your own dime and I would be very impressed. Two, invite me and/or my staff to functions, CLE, or other learning opportunities that are relevant to what we do as lawyers and in our field of activity. The “wine and dine” varies in importance from company to company and individual to individual but it is overrated. I have a diverse organization and young (and large) family. My time is limited and precious to me.

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: Yes and no. Some firms get it and others don’t. Good processes that result in problem solving in an efficient manner are very important to us. If you understand our business, recognize the need for good information flow, that cost control and budgeting are important, you are well on your way. Sometimes outside counsel forget we have clients too, which includes financial people and getting our reports to management, etc.

Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A: The traditional matters in the way litigation is handled. It is interesting that we will build entire factories with a plan and a budget yet when you ask for a time line and cost estimates, you get all sorts of excuses and push back. It is time lawyers developed expertise in this regard. There is too much adhocracy in litigation, uncontrolled expense and over-lawyering. Couple this with poor service, etc. and it is little wonder that clients are unhappy.

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 would be surprised that a GC never has. People and firms get replaced and more often than not firms get replaced because of poor value, thereby creating an opportunity for another law firm to take their place rather than obtaining a new client resulting from ?out of the blue? marketing initiatives. It may not always be right at the exact moment of dissatisfaction. In-house counsel may wait for an opportunity to do so which may be why some firms are surprised when it happens. More than likely I suspect that law firms just experience declined usage and then fall off the list.

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, but I think firms need to review internally and with their client after every major transaction, litigation, etc. to see how things went, what worked and did not work and why, etc. This would go a long way in making improvements and if it was initiated by the firm and they were sincere about the process most GCs would be very impressed.

Q: Are there any other questions we should have asked you? If so, please ask and answer your own question!
A: Law firms should focus less on what other firms are doing and more on their clients. Ask yourself – where are my clients’ businesses and their processes going and are we not only keeping up but are we helping them get there? In a lot of ways, the business side of the practice of law thinks they are keeping up but if you really look at it carefully, it really is automation of the same old way of doing things. True success will come through innovation in determining what are the problems their clients are facing and coming up with the best ways to help their clients solve them.

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