In a recent client feedback interview, a deputy general counsel told a common story. He had all but forgotten the Thursday deadline for a filing in a litigation matter of medium importance. His regular outside litigation counsel had a conflict, and he was trying a new firm on the recommendation of a colleague. The firm had all the credentials, all the knowledge and direct experience in the market.
At about 6 pm on Wednesday, when that deputy general counsel was meeting with other executives about something unrelated, the draft of the motion came in from the new outside counsel. He did not have time to review the draft and didn’t have anyone else on his team familiar enough with the matter to help.
He did review the brief after it was filed and would only have made minor edits. However, because the outside counsel failed to communicate the status of the matter, remind the client and give the client reasonable time to respond, that deputy general counsel decided he would never send another matter to that lawyer or that firm.
Getting to know personal preferences while working together takes time, but that outside counsel could have avoided the frustration by asking about communication preferences ahead of time. Now, when that deputy general counsel is asked about his experience with that one lawyer on that one matter, he will say they can’t meet deadlines.
There is a very significant difference between real deadlines and perceived deadlines, and clients have personal preferences for which items they want to review and when. While many in-house counsel trust outside counsel to handle those matters themselves, a new relationship is a crucial time to clarify and then exceed expectations.
There is no replacing the power of a simple communication. If that outside counsel had quickly called or emailed the client to clarify when he needed the brief for review, he would have been rewarded for that effort instead of being penalized for not meeting an unstated deadline.
In every relationship, it is essential to know the client’s style and preferences. Particularly in a new relationship, asking basic questions about how to meet the client’s needs may define the future of the relationship. After all, there is no guarantee of a second chance in a hypercompetitive marketplace.