McWane, Inc., Bill Marshall Assistant Vice President and Counsel, August 2008
Q: What’s your favorite thing about McWane?
A: The first thing I like about McWane would have to be the great people I work for and with. Next would be the diverse nature of my work. McWane companies manufacture ductile iron pipe, fire hydrants, valves, fire extinguishers and suppression systems, and steel pressure vessels. We are an international business. It seems like every day I get a question that involves either a novel issue or a new twist on a traditional one. That keeps things interesting.
Q: If you think about your best relationships with outside counsel over time, what are the top three things other lawyers could learn from them?
A: Work well within your firm, don’t just be out for yourself. The internal culture at the law firm needs to be very positive. That’s something that will be helpful to the client. It makes for a better law firm. Also, we value responsiveness. If I call somebody and don’t get a call back the same day, frankly, I am thinking maybe I have the wrong lawyer. I usually get a call back in an hour or two. And finally, technical competence is always key.
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: We have relationships with hundreds of firms around the world. I haven’t really fired anybody for cause, but I’ve moved cases around. I guess that’s a qualified firing. The person who doesn’t call you back isn’t going to get a lot of work. I had one lawyer who was impossible to get on the phone, and I felt like I had to fire her. Call back. If not, it’s going to get you in trouble. Even if it’s a call to say I’ll be in touch by tomorrow.
Q: What’s the smartest thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you outside of doing great legal work?
A: When they apprise us of legal issues that we haven’t thought about, that’s really helpful. Also, it’s great when outside lawyers figure out how to settle cases early, even if it’s not in the law firm’s interest on that particular case.
Q: And, no need to name names, but what’s the story of the “least helpful” thing a lawyer or a law firm has ever done for you?
A: Missing a deadline. Or finding out about a deadline at the last minute. Or — and this is probably the least helpful thing a firm can do — being wasteful in the way they manage litigation. Don’t send two partners when an associate can do the job.
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 don’t really see many trends or changes in the way things have operated in the last 10 years. I see firms moving toward electronic billing, and also toward more paperless workflows, and that’s a good thing.
Q: Are there other law firm trends that you’re seeing that you’d like to come to a screeching halt?
A: Some law firms seem to be stretching to squeeze as much work as they can out of us during the economic downturn. I am not sure it’s a trend, but I’ve noticed it a few times.
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: We have moved certain kinds of cases from one firm to another — that was for a combination of financial reasons and we didn’t feel like they were doing a great job for us…
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: It might not have changed the outcome in those particular cases, but I think in some situations that could be helpful — sometimes conversations like those can help. It can’t hurt.