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XOS Digital, Stephen Kaplan, Executive Vice President & General Counsel

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XOS Digital, Stephen Kaplan, Executive Vice President & General Counsel

XOS Digital, which was founded in 1999, offers technology-enabled solutions to more than 400 collegiate and professional sports organizations. It provides video editing and data analysis software as well as audiovisual systems. The company has offices in Florida and Massachusetts.

Q: In your best relationships with outside counsel, what are three important things other lawyers could learn from them?

A: Take time to get to know what makes my business tick, how the executive team collects wins, what my relative strengths and weaknesses are and how the firm can help me best fulfill my obligations to the team and our shareholders.

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: If you and counsel operate in a billable hour environment, you will have to constantly evaluate the relationship, efficiency, etc. It requires far more fine-tuning should you want to optimize results for you and your shareholders. Some firms and/or attorneys fail to set expectations properly. When you are asked to do something, acknowledge receipt and give a timeline for evaluation and the generation of the necessary work product or result. Just simply receiving an assignment and spitting out the result somewhere downstream is not acceptable. Lawyers are not always strong communicators. The last item is that some firms will simply not inquire as to their performance in any manner. That’s bad relationship management. And when you are a trusted (and very highly paid) advisor, we are most definitely in a relationship.

Q: How has purchasing legal services changed?

A: The wealth of competition and the skills possessed by smaller and mid-size firms have created an eye-opening experience to the in-house counsel who is willing to see. The legal market is slow to innovate when compared to other industries (or, for that matter, any industry). Offshoring is creating competition, especially on rote, process-based matters. Software and cloud solutions are evolving to fit the needs of the in-house practitioner, with specialty programs and modules created for certain specialties and department sizes. They are ALL worth a look. You never know which vendor or provider may change the way you practice or give you that extra push towards the goal line.

Q: With all the highly qualified lawyers out there, what factors really influence your hiring decisions?

A: Studies and statistics make it impossible to miss the fact that we have a far greater supply of lawyers in the US than demand for such practitioners. This means that skill, expertise and intelligence in counsel do not do much to separate them from the pack. Those are gating issues. What sets an attorney apart from the rest will be his or her business acumen and ability to relate to clients and their particular situations. The reclusive geniuses are not going to be the first pick (if they ever were).

Q: What law firm trends are you are seeing that you would like to come to a screeching halt?

A: People still wait until the end of the month to tabulate their hours. I believe it promotes inefficiency and probably ends up costing the client money. If solos can find electronic tools to allow them to calculate and record hours on the go, why do so many firms (with larger resources) fall on their faces here? Technology like Viewabill can be an effective tool, but we need to press its adoption.

Q: What is your greatest challenge as in-house counsel?

A: Translating legal matters to those without the time or attention to listen. Knowing that an internal client is not just a client, but that you carry the company’s expectations with you wherever you go.

Q: Lawyers are often worried that seeking client feedback, ascertaining the client’s preferences or learning more about the business will be viewed by the client as an imposition. How would you respond to that concern?

A: It depends on the generation of the lawyer from whom you seek feedback. If you can utilize tech that other industries have been using for a decade, a firm can ascertain information without any severe inconvenience. Surveys and the like can be as invasive as you want them to be. Professional services organizations like law firms, accounting firms, etc. can learn quite a bit from the outside world in these areas. That normally draws a hearty ‘pshaw’ from traditionalists who are hell-bent on focusing on what makes lawyering different from anything else. It’s in our nature to tout how special we are. Self-aggrandizement assists in self-preservation. But is that in the client’s best interest? The shareholders?

Q: Any other advice you would like to give law firms?

A: Business relationships are on the same spectrum as any other human relationship. They can be strong or rotten from the core. Both parties in that relationship owe each other communication, trust and the ability to make good on the promises we make to one another. When firms take great care of their clients and get the little things right, they can create 40+ years of loyalty. That’s the most powerful way to build your brand and your client list.

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