Picking a law firm or the “right” law firm has been the topic of a number of articles and books. This is especially true in Korea. In Chapter 30 of his book, Doing Business in Korea, Tom Coyner describes the trials and tribulations of picking the right law firm in Korea. He opines that some domestic and international lawyers are commercially incompetent, as some Korean attorneys fail to appreciate the commercial context in which they offer counsel. In his Korean Law Blog, Sean Hayes has also written about the importance of selecting a commercially competent lawyer when looking for counsel in Korea as well.
Failure of appreciating or understanding the commercial environment in which one operates is not unique to Korean lawyers. I’ve witnessed firsthand lawyers in other jurisdictions, including the US, act as if they were giving legal advice inside a vacuum. However, I firmly believe that Korean law schools which, until recently, failed to emphasize the commercial/international nature of legal practice in Korea, are partly to blame. Until recently, the Korean legal market was less competitive than in other jurisdictions in Asia, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which are known for producing internationally focused lawyers schooled in common law. However, as more and more Korean lawyers study and work abroad, the international/commercial abilities of younger Korean lawyers are increasing.
Be that as it may, picking the right law firm in Korea is like picking a law firm in other jurisdictions. It is up to the corporate manager or in-house counsel to meet with outside lawyers and determine if they are a good fit. One should ask plenty of questions, get referrals, and look at trade journals and publications to get an idea of which firms are known for their commercial and international expertise. For those interviewing prospective law firms or lawyers ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you get the feeling that the law firms you meet understand your business and industry?
- What law firms have represented companies with similar issues?
- Look at the website of the law firms you consider. What does the website say? Does it specialize in the areas you are concerned about?
- What does the local business community think about the firm or firms you look at?
- After meeting with a law firm are you impressed with its capabilities? Do you believe you trust the partners you met with?
A firm that grasps your business and industry is more likely to appreciate your business/legal issues and offer constructive advice. And of course, you should be comfortable with the lead attorney you met. So, it’s up to you to decide whether the firm is a good fit or not. Remember that selecting the right law firm for your legal issue or issues is the most important step in resolving the legal matters at hand
I am always asked by my younger colleagues how General Counsel or GCs pick law firms when deciding which law firms to use. Most GCs actually pick lawyers, not just law firms, when retaining outside counsel, but it is important that the law firm is also a firm the GC likes and respects. If the GC likes and respects the firm, the odds are that the law firm is the firm the General Counsel most likely will pick to handle a major problem or case.
Most GCs have over the years developed processes to select and use outside counsel on a consistent basis with a focus on quality, reasonable fees, and, of course, success. Such success is normally the result of a long-term relationship in which outside counsel becomes a member of the company’s “team,” learns the business, and can, therefore, provide timely legal and business advice. A General Counsel knows that it is vital to have a go to law firm that can handle major legal issues in an effective and efficient manner. So the General Counsel is always looking for the lawyer and the firm that can deliver for the company- i.e. add value. There are many firms vying for the GC’s business, but only a few that can really deliver for the GC.
In essence, more and more General Counsel are only looking for law firms that can add value and either help the in house law department add value or add value to the company’s bottom line. In today’s ultra- competitive legal marketplace, only the law firms that can add value are thriving. So how can a law firm position itself to add value and become the law firm of choice? Law firms know that when dealing with a company it is essential to meet the General Counsel (if the company has one) and develop a working relationship. But that is not enough. The days of becoming the go to law firm solely based on relationships are over. Having a good working relationship is of course also necessary. But it’s all about value add.
IT IS ALL ABOUT VALUE ADD
Here are 12 steps layers and law firms should take to become the firm that adds value-
1. Know the business! Understand the major issues facing the business? Take time to understand how the company works! One size does not fit all.
2. Develop a relationship with the GC! Go out and meet him or her. Call him or her on the phone. Communicate! Did I say communicate?
3. Meet the Assistant General Counsel as well and/or other senior lawyers on the team.
4. Be responsive- At All Times!
5. 24/7- is the new response time. Remember weekends are not off limits anymore.
6. Don’t create “busy work”. The GC knows what is important.
7. Work with the GC to fit in with the GC’s outside staffing guidelines
• Work with the GC to meet all billing guidelines
• Be flexible in billing arrangements
• Don’t overcharge or overspend
8. Responsiveness is important! Communicate any and all significant case developments!
9. GC’s love litigation plans and well drafted budgets. Provide them and don’t complain.
• It requires a well drafted pitch proposal to RFPs.
• What are the major issues in the litigation or matter?
• Be willing to follow the GC’s requested billing format (and stick to it).
10. Go the extra mile!! Do whatever it takes!
• Provide free services if requested
• Be willing to travel free of charge or be willing to drop everything for the client
• Always deliver
11. Learn how the organization works!!
• What are its A/R, billing, credit, accounting and procurement processes?
• What are the main business issues involving its manufacturing or services?
12. Don’t take the GC or company for granted – ever!
If a law firm can internalize these 12 steps it is well on its way to become the company’s firm of choice. The GO TO LAW FIRM! Remember, General Counsel for the most part are reasonable but at the end of the day they are looking for the firms that can stand up and deliver- or add value. If the firm is not willing to go the extra mile, it can’t expect the GC to think of it as the “Go to Law Firm”. Oddly enough, not that many law firms are really willing to do so. They may pay lip service to “adding value” but at the end of the day may not deliver as promised. This provides an opening for those firms that are willing to internalize the 12 steps I mentioned above and become the firm of choice.