There were four research reports to help us understanding General Counsel (in-house lawyers) published recently. Each drew out some surprising findings:

Nabarro’s third annual general counsel report (surveying 100 GCs from FTSE listed and large private companies) indicated that 75% were keen to receive further training on influencing. GCs from Kellogg, Misys and Sony Mobile Communications were quoted in articles.

KPMG’s survey of 320 GCs found 67% were more involved in business strategy formulation than five years ago, primarily because of increasing risk and regulation. But 62% of the GCs interviewed did not sit on the Board.

The Altman Weil 2012 Chief Legal Officer survey (200 GC participants) asked about what they had done to control costs in the last 12 months:

  • 71% reported they had negotiated price reductions
  • 47% said they handed work to in-house teams
  • 41% shifted work to lower priced firms
  • 36% reduced the total amount of work sent to outside counsel
  • 10% reported a law firm convergence programme

When choosing law firms, on a scale of 1 to 10 “demonstrated understanding of your business/industry” was the top factor at 9.6, while referrals from colleagues (8.6%), personal contacts (6.7) and written material demonstrating a lawyer’s expertise (6.1) also figured highly.

Legal Week asked GCs how they rate law firms’ business development efforts:

  • Sandra Mori at Coca-Cola remarked that the first marketing managers were mostly non-lawyers and these evolved into business development officers who are almost always lawyers although this is primarily a UK trend. The main benefit is when firms provide updated information about the range of services on offer – Eversheds is noted in this area. BD teams must tread a fine line when it comes to engagement with in-house lawyers and must not become too pushy.
  • Steve Kuncewicz at online clothing business BooHoo singles out Pannone, Eversheds, Gateley and DWF as firms with BD teams that made a large difference to pitching and securing work, highlighting the firms’ competence when presenting in front of general counsel
  • Helen Mahy at National Grid prefers BD having a back stage role in getting firms and GC together and doesn’t like to see them at pitches.
  • Monica Risam at insurer Aviva is keen for BD as a support function (helping relationship partners deliver compelling and attractive costs and services proposals) without having to deal with them in person.
  • James Tsolakis at Royal Bank of Scotland is broadly sceptical of how successful law firms have taken on a BD function. He comments that successful firms make a concentrated effort in understanding the group well and developing relationships with the major client businesses and key members of the team.
  • Gillian Haselden at Ernst & Young points out that BD teams are more widely seen with clients that operate large legal panels where they help to remain competitive in a crowded space. Relationship management, fee negotiations and tender pitches go through key client partners rather than engaging directly with a firm’s BD function. The brand and reputation of a law firm is the product of a long-held standing in the market.
  • Eddie Ryan – recently retired MD of Co-operative Legal Services – says the challenge for all providers of legal services is to raise their profile and awareness of the work they do and argues that branding is an essential undertaking for firms of all sizes.