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Client Choice – International 2013
to come down off the high wire. As head of
competition at Qualcomm Inc, Roy Hoffinger
must frequently do just that. For Roy, superlative
service demands the ability to learn, adapt and
develop ever-deeper levels of understanding of
his organisation and its requirements over time.
“In the business world, I often get internal
requests for down-and-dirty, ‘I need it today’
types of advice. Many lawyers are not very
adept at understanding what is needed and
what is not needed. I look for those firms who
understand the level of effort that needs to be
expended on a particular matter. It’s really a big
practical issue, and is key when I develop my
opinion of outside counsel.”
Time trials
Of course, communication involves much more
than effective discussion, and there can be no
denying the importance of responsiveness and
availability to those representing and protecting
the interests of demanding internal clients,
operating 24/7 across multiple time zones.
“The key thing is being available,” confirms
Kaarli Harry Eichhorn, senior counsel – European
competition law, government affairs and policy at
General Electric Company. “The fact is that crises
and disasters have to be dealt with right away.
You need your consultants to respond
immediately. It’s like calling a doctor in an
emergency; it’s no good if your physician picks
up the phone the next day, you will be dead. Of
course it is a relationship that requires mutual
respect, and as a client, you cannot abuse that.
But when you do call, it’s vital that every request
is initially approached with utmost urgency.
“You also want to find the kind of relationship
that allows the partner to feel comfortable
recommending a competitor because they are
simply too busy. I am more than happy for a partner
to say that while they would love to be involved in
this exciting new project, unfortunately they simply
do not have the time to provide the sufficient level
of service required and would like to recommend
someone else. They can then wish me well, get
back to their other matters and look forward to
hearing from me next time I have an appropriate
project. The nightmare scenario is when someone
is simply not picking up their phone or answering
emails. The minimum requirement is that an email
comes back right away.”
Bottom line
Based on the data gathered in the course of our
2013 research, the statistics would suggest that
even the best firms have room for improvement
when it comes to billing flexibility and amenability
to tailored fee structures. Across the board, firms
continue to score poorly in this area – it appears
that the billable-hour model may still be the
unwelcome elephant in the room during fee
negotiations. However, some of the anecdotal
evidence offered by interviewees for this article
tells a different story. Eichhorn suggests that
securing alternative arrangements may not be
such an elusive proposition, and that it might
in fact be that clients themselves simply need
to be more demanding.
“The nightmare scenario
is when someone is
simply not picking
up their phone or
answering emails”
“I approach law firm advice as I approach
anything in life,” he explains. “I am currently
renovating my house and demand a very detailed
proposal from the carpenters who are working
on my bathroom. They will tell me what the tiles
cost, what the piping will cost and so on. They
will indicate who will be doing the work and how
much time it will take, and they will propose
either a fixed fee or an hourly rate. I will take each
item and decide whether I think it is reasonable
or unreasonable. We then discuss and negotiate.
This is the same for law firms: I regard their
rates simply as indications. I believe it can
be that easy.”
Interestingly, Neil Rosolinsky, head of
employment law at RBS Legal – Americas,
reports that he has seen considerable
improvements in this area post-financial crisis,
with firms forced to compete on price in a way
that might have been inconceivable beforehand.
“Some firms are really trying very hard on this
issue and recogniaing the cost pressures that
we are under internally. Ideally, you want them
In search of lasting relationships