The General Counsel as account manager
Adapted from work with my colleague, John Cona.
Corporate management must be wary of overlapping or nebulous roles among multiple providers of legal services, advice and counsel.
General Counsel (GC) in most business organizations, especially large corporations are the “account managers” of relations with outside counsel and third-party vendors of legal services, particularly technological support services such as document management, data analytics, and e-discovery associated with litigation.
Account Management for General Counsel
Account management means planning and overseeing allocation of resources dedicated to a plan whose end result is success. In a modern business organization whether in the public or private sector, the GC has only one client, the organization itself. Account management by the GC can be enhanced by application of sound management first-principles.
A communications model
GCs need to establish a communication model for legal services to be performed at the start of the effort to perform those services. That communication model is a critical element of good Account Management particularly between in-house counsel and outside counsel.
Account Management should be part of a “program”
A “program” is nothing more than the processes and structure that are necessary to successfully complete a “project”—providing the legal services necessary to complete a single matter. A program can also involve management of multiple projects but it will always include their collective common operating principles, and prescribed rules of conduct and engagement.
For large organizations and enterprises in the public and private sectors, there will be many groups interacting to support completion of a single project. Each of those essentially independent groups may have their own terminology and jargon, business practices and processes, and little experience in working together, much less actively cooperating with, other groups, even competitors, in order to assure successful completion of a large project.
Clustering application functionality and developing inventories of skills among outside counsel and vendors; creation of professional services models and attendant cost and allocation modeling are fruitful exercises for any GC. The effort required will provide significant benefits for any organization in the public or the private sector which must purchase legal services in the open market.
Blind Obedience Is Not Management
Blind obedience to client demands is not management; but just ignoring those demands is not management either. Living in fear about whether failing to respond to those demands will cost you your job is not management.
Management means “managing” — steering a project toward the desired goal by means of impactful action and solid decision-making. Too much of client management today is simply tracking tasks even as they go off course.
Doing whatever the client says is not client management.
While immediately responding to unscheduled or unproductive client requests may temporarily increase revenues for time billing firms, it will always delay, and often fatally damage an optimized plan.
Those to whom General Counsel report must understand that the GC is the account and program manager for all the legal services the organization requires and they should recognize and accommodate that role.