Infinity Property & Casualty Corporation
Infinity Property & Casualty Corporation, Mike Cunningham, VP Corporate Litigation and Assistant General Counsel, July 2009
Infinity rates among the top 50 Property and Casualty Insurance companies in the country and is the second largest writer of non-standard automobile insurance through independent car insurance agents.
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, respond promptly to all requests for information. Even if it is just a return call to let me know that you need more time to get me an answer to a question. It is also important to provide detailed reports that provide factual information and define case strategy. I need more than just facts from my lawyers — I need analysis and strategy. Lastly, it means a great deal when they make an effort to learn about our business. If you are going to be doing work with me, show an interest in how the business operates, how it is doing, and how you, the attorney, can help make the business successful.
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: Don’t pad your bill. Return phone calls. And treat my team is if they are your partners.
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 expressed concern over the work that was done by an associate. The law firm waived the bill without question. They understood that they would be better off in the long term not arguing over a small bill that I felt was unfair.
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 think a lot of law firms are beginning to understand that they need to be better partners with their business clients. More lawyers, and firms, are making an effort to work with us on more than just a case by case basis. These firms will partner with us on training and try to add value in other ways, like providing timely updates on developments that matter to the business. Overall, I think there is a greater awareness that if you are not adding value, you are less likely to get more work from us.
Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A: I am not sure if this is a trend or not, but some firms allow associates to do work that they are not yet prepared to do. We develop relationships with partners typically. While we understand that it is necessary for associates to do work on our files, it needs to be closely supervised until we have a comfort level working with the associate. Too often, associates are allowed to do substantive work without the partner’s assistance or review. When this happens, there is usually a drop off in the quality of work. While we are paying less for the associate’s time, we still demand the same level of quality. Close supervision of associates is the only way to strike the right balance.
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. The main reasons we have fired law firms are due to a drop off in quality (see above) or in the level of communications. We have had firms that spend a great deal of time developing a relationship, but once that relationship is solidified, they lose interest and move on to the next “rain-making” opportunity. Our work gets passed on to other lawyers who we do not have a relationship with and who often are not as skilled as the partner who first obtained the business.
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, that would be very helpful if someone requested my feedback and acted on it.
Q: What do you most value from the outside firms you use?
A: I most value outside firms that understand that every case that we give them is an opportunity to demonstrate their value to the company. Every case is important and gives the firm a chance to show what they can do.
Q: What advice would you give law firms?
A: Spend some time at the beginning of each year thinking about your clients and how you can improve your relationship with them and provide more value to them. Schedule times in advance to call them and times to visit with them. Be curious about their business and let them know that you are willing to do what it takes not just to earn them as a client, but to keep them as a client long term.