Union Square Hospitality Group, founded by Danny Meyer, is the parent company to some of New York City’s most beloved restaurants, including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and Shake Shack. The company also includes Union Square Events, a catering and events business, and Hospitality Quotient, a learning business that helps companies transform through the power of hospitality.
Q: In your best relationships with outside counsel, what are three important things other lawyers could learn from them?
A: (1) Please be responsive. We understand and appreciate that you have many clients who are all clamoring for answers. At the same time, however, we are concerned about our business and are accountable to leaders on our side who are waiting for direction. Our best outside counsel always let us know that they’ve received our question or request and work within our time frame (which is not always “ASAP”) to make sure we meet our own internal deadlines. (2) Please be thorough, but respect how time spent being thorough affects cost. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s someone on the other end of the timekeeping software that actually has to pay the bills, which add up very quickly. We appreciate a thorough answer and want to have all necessary information, but our best counsel understand our business and what we need and give us (and bill us for) just that. (3) Please communicate. Our best counsel keep us apprised of developments or roadblocks and never leave us wondering where we are or what is coming.
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: (1) Please be courteous. This might sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times outside counsel have been abrasive, condescending or flat-out rude. (2) Please let us know if a project is going to incur expected fees or fees that are out of the ordinary. If we are going to incur an unusually large charge, let us know in advance so we can appreciate what’s coming and plan accordingly. (3) Please keep track of the information that we have provided to you. It’s very frustrating to have outside counsel ask for the same documentation multiple times and indicates that counsel is not paying attention to our matters.
Q: With all the highly qualified lawyers out there, what factors really influence your hiring decisions?
A: Personal relationships or recommendations. I rarely hire counsel off of Internet or promotional materials alone, though I would if it’s clear that a firm that I do not have a connection to is known for doing a particular type of work very well.
Q: Competition is fierce among law firms; what have law firms done effectively to market to you that captured your attention?
A: As I mentioned above, I haven’t hired firms strictly off of marketing materials. However, I do appreciate when attorneys that I have worked with send me articles or events at their firms that they think would be helpful based on the type of work that we do together. I appreciate that they are thinking about our relationship and our business. And free CLEs are very much appreciated. In-house legal teams generally do not have the CLE budgets that law firms do, so it’s great to be able to get those credits and build relationships at the same time.
Q: What law firm trends are you are seeing that you would like to come to a screeching halt?
A: Billing in 15-minute increments rather than six-minute increments.
Q: What is your greatest challenge as in-house counsel?
A: Balancing the needs of multiple businesses with a finite number of hours and resources.
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: Au contraire! It’s imperative to understand the business that you’re working with in order to provide accurate advice, and I have the utmost appreciation for outside counsel that have taken the time to do so. Additionally, we are paying for your time, and we want that time to be utilized most efficiently and effectively. Our best outside counsel have asked detailed questions about what we are looking to achieve with a particular project or deal and what kind of work product we are looking for so that they can deliver just what we need.
Q: Any other advice you would like to give law firms?
A: While the firm-client relationship is transactional, our interactions do not have to be transactions alone. Take the time to know us and our business—we always enjoy getting to know you.