Client feedback – IBM Head of Legal

Posted on: May 19, 2011

One of the conference sessions I always look forward to are where clients give their views on what they expect from their professional advisers – lawyers in this case. I was a bit surprised that more delegates didn’t hang around for the afternoon session at Netlaw’s Key Strategies for Law Firms event (see below for full event) because there’s nothing quite like hearing it from the horse’s mouth…

Kevin Green, Head of Legal, UKISA IMT Counsel of IBM United Kingdom, started by explaining that the issues discussed at the conference earlier in the day: brand, expansion, transformation, client focus and differentiation were the same as those debated in-house at IBM Legal too. He then explained what being a Globally Integrated Enterprise (GIE) means in terms of economics, openness (in systems and approach) and expertise. He described how the global matrix structure of the legal team mirrored that of the commercial operations with personnel at global, regional and country level to enable seamless and fast escalation where necessary. There is also a central deals team that travels out across the globe to provide support on negotiations.

He explained that the IBM shareholder is the client of the legal team and that the in-house team was the conduit for the relationship with outside counsel. He was at pains to stress that the focus was on cost-effectiveness rather than lowest cost – despite the constant pressures to reduce the cost of legal services – and that not all law firms they used needed to have global reach. He stressed that outside counsel must really get to know how they operate and that there must be a good relationship and fit. He talked about the schemes they operate for trainees and secondments that enable this understanding to develop. He stressed “we really have to know our professionals” – proving that the relationship was definitely a two way thing.

The need for innovation to enable them to do more with less, use economies of scale and access resource tools was mentioned. He explained that IBM does not operate a lawyer panel and chooses counsel on a “horses for courses” basis considering that all important relationship and fit. He also advised “to treat your client as you would a friend – open communication and mutual benefit”. Eye catching features from external counsel he had seen included thinking differently about fee structures (the billable hour is dead) and differentiating services whilst understanding the new economic environment. Without explaining how best to achieve it, he advised that law firms need to be “the first name to pop into your head”.

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