My Takeaways from LMA 2018's General Counsel Panel

April 18, 2018 John Simpson

LMA 2018 is in the books and, as always, the conference featured a ‘voice of the customer’ panel entitled “Pushing Through the Noise - What Gets the Attention of General Counsel and Business Executives.”

The panel was led by Heather Nevitt - Editor in Chief Corporate Counsel, Inside Counsel and Texas Later - ALM Media, and included an excellent GC panel:

  • Ezgi Kaya - Corporate Counsel - Amazon
  • Kristen Albertson - VP, Global Ethics & Compliance Administration - Walmart Stores, Inc. 
  • Mark Kelin - General Counsel - Burford Capital
  • Alison Wisniewski - Chief Legal Officer - Epic
  • Maria Feeley - VP, GC and Secretary - University of Hartford

The questions to the panelists were essentially crowdsourced from the LMA attendees, allowing the panel to discuss a wide range of topics in a short period of time. Following are some of my favorite takeaways:

On cross-selling…
“Learn about my business. Then suggest bringing one of your partners to the table that will actually strengthen the bond between our two organizations.” 

The GC contrasted this with those making cold and ill-informed introductions, even mocking some firms that show up and say, “Here is my partner in litigation…what work do you have for him/her?” 

On a related note, when panelists were asked if they stay with the firm or go with the partner when their relationship partner leaves the firm, the panelists agreed on, “going with the relationship.” The one caveat, of course, was that the more likely the relationship partner had successful cross-sold, the less likely ‘going with the relationship’ was a viable option. 

One GC noted that she looks to her major law firm partners to find local counsel and doesn’t always expect them to be able to provide a resource within the firm. So, in your quest to cross-sell, don’t out-punt your coverage!

On non-attorneys (e.g. Business Development Executives) interacting with a GC…
So, this was a funny moment in the GC panel. The question submitted went something like, “How do you feel about working with non-lawyers at prospective or current law firms that you patronize?”

Interestingly enough, the panel could not even comprehend the question, and I think this was largely due to the fact that they fundamentally don’t believe that a non-lawyer can develop them as a client. Having said that, when probed further, they did see places where business developers were valuable, such as in client feedback programs. 

On the way they prefer to receive content from their outside counsel…
Universally, the GCs preferred electronic, timely updates that were snackable in length. Video, lengthy content, or hard copy materials were NOT preferred. “Alerts in email, with no bells and whistles and no hard copy,” one GC quipped. 

We were pleased to see that the GC clearly use law firm websites. “Websites are really important for me…they let me know if this particular matter is in your wheelhouse.” 

Another panelist jumped right in and remarked, “I go straight to your cases.”

Consistent with One North’s own research, hearing attorneys speak at conferences continues to be a key way for outside counsel to be hired.

In fact, one GC remarked, “When I go to a conference, I am shopping for outside counsel."

While that might sound obvious, there was a cautionary tale as well: One GC discussed a lawyer that impressed the firm with his performance on a panel discussion, only to duck out the back door and head back to the office before talking to any of the audience.

On diversity...
The comments around diversity were some of the most resolute I’ve ever heard. One panelist stated, “Law firms that are not going to staff my matter with women, people of color and the disabled are not going to get my work.”

As a best practice, the Walmart GC noted that several of their top 100 firms regularly send representatives to Bentonville to participate in the company’s Diversity and Inclusion program. 

On basic client service…
I thought it was interesting that several GCs talked about a lack of responsiveness from their outside counsel. “Outside counsel should respond as soon as possible to a phone call or email, even if it’s just to say when they will reply.”

One panelist told a story of firing a very prominent lawyer/firm because the partner’s underlings just weren’t responsive enough to his team. 

On topics that ‘keep them up at night’…
Responses to the obligatory ‘What keeps you up at night?’ question very much reflected the trending issues of the day. The number one issue seemed to be data privacy, including the processes around securing data, managing liability during a breach and, to a lesser extent, GDPR.

Maria Feeley from the University of Hartford also discussed the tremendous responsibility that her organization takes on for ensuring the safety of the university’s students, noting that death and sexual assault in a #MeToo world are omnipresent issues. 

All and all, this was one of the best GC panels I’ve been to in my 16+ LMA Annual conferences. And while the content was specifically focused on law firms, the comments from the panelists are valuable and relevant when transferred to many other high-end service providers. 

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John Simpson Chief Executive Officer

John Simpson is one of One North’s founders and serves as the Chief Executive Officer. For more than 20 years, John has been helping professional services marketers engage with their clients and grow their organizations through brand-based digital marketing experiences. He is a frequent author and speaker as it relates to relationship development, digital strategy and marketing innovation.

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