Monday, December 18, 2006

Tips for selecting outside counsel

When selecting outside counsel, competitive intelligence, or objective market information, makes for better decision making. Here are some ways to get started:

  1. To select outside counsel, make a list of criteria that a firm or lawyer must meet. Such criteria might include firm specialization, responsiveness, cost, history with the company, reputation, location and partnering capabilities.
  2. Consider using available vender services that evaluate a firm's or lawyer's expertise, service and quality.
  3. Cull names of outside counsel from important legal matters. Attend conferences or seminars and retain the names of lawyers who give impressive presentations.
  4. Decide whether a Request for Proposal process is the best approach to choosing outside counsel. If so, be precise in what you ask and set a timeline. Use your contract -- not the outside counsel's -- for the basis of an agreement.
  5. Whether you're using a checklist approach or an RFP, interview the outside counsel to determine if they meet your criteria. If you're using an RFP, make sure all responses comform so you can compare responses. "Talk with former clients and adversaries of the outside counsel and ask about the firm's work so you can find out if their experience is real and how much of their results is based on talent and skill versus dumb luck," says Charles James of Chevron.
  6. Gather macro information about the legal industry to determine what the legal department should anticipate from its firms in terms of billing rates for the next year.
  7. If you're using an RFP, run parallel negotiations with many outside counsel. Eliminate one each round. Use a fixed format.
  8. Once a firm is hired, institute a formal evaluation process to determine whether your criteria continue to be met. Make sure internal business clients evaluate outside counsel, too. Cull data from e-billing and information management systems to determine such things as: efficiency in providing services, results achieved, whether the firm adhered to your guidelines for billing, expenses, communication and access to a firm's premier lawyers.

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