Obviously, there are many ways in which a lawyer and law firm can address these concerns and make life easier for the CLOs with whom they work. The purpose of a client conversation is to uncover these concerns and come up with practical solutions that address them.
Communication between inside and outside counsel is a hot button for many CLOs. “One of the most common complaints we hear from clients is about unclear emails,” said Slavin. “Be specific in the message line. Keep the message succinct, with the main point up front. After a chain of three emails, pick up the phone and speak with the client. Do not send an email at 2 a.m. It just makes the client nervous. Write it at 2 a.m., if you must, but send it in the morning.”
If your client prefers to communicate in person or by phone instead of email, respect those preferences. Make sure that a real, informed person answers your phone and that messages do not go to voicemail or to an uninformed switchboard.
“Cost of legal services is also obviously a big problem for CLOs,” said Slavin. “Prior to the recession and current economic pressures, in-house counsel were comfortable sending work to outside counsel. With current cost pressures, legal departments are forced to handle more of this work in-house. Competition for ‘outside’ work and pressure to control cost is extreme.
“When a client gets a series of monthly bills for $20,000, and the outside lawyer says that the next month will be more, and the bill shows up at $65,000,” said Slavin, “that is a massive failure to manage the client’s expectations and an equally massive disconnect in understanding the client’s budget. Without exception, CLOs hate surprises.”
Another common complaint is bills with small increments, like 30 or 40 minutes a day listed over several days for the same project. Clients want lawyers to be focused in their use of time.
Understanding the preferences of individual clients is also essential. “I spoke with one new corporate counsel who had been invited out by a client for an evening of steak, scotch and cigars,” said Slavin. “This approach had apparently worked well with her predecessor. However, she was a vegetarian with a husband and a three-year-old waiting at home. She just wanted to be able to spend more time with her family! This was not the best way to build a relationship with her.”
This is part three of a five-part article. To see the entire article: