The compilation below consists of over 50 pet peeves, which the author, Julie Savarino placed into six categories. Each “pet peeve” is an actual comment made by numerous in-house and general counsel in response to the questions: “what frustrates you most re: your outside counsel?”, “what drives you most crazy about the outside counsel with whom you work?”:
Pet Peeves re: Asking General/In-House Counsel for Legal Work/More or New Business
a. Emailing me alerts that our company has been sued. We know the minute we are sued because our process receivers alert us. If you insist on sending us an email about a recent suit, add value i.e. explain what you know, could do that could be of use/vale to us/our company.
b. Calling/emailing me asking me for new business/work with little or with no preparation/homework, context, reason, or benefit to company. Do research/do your homework about our company and legal needs before contacting in-house counsel in any form.
c. Numerous lawyers from same firm contacting me repeatedly for new business (i.e. little or no internal firm coordination-communication re who is reaching out to which clients for what, when, why). To avoid embarrassment/redundancies, coordinate internally before contacting me.
d. “Robotic”, cookie-cutter and/or firm-centered pitches for new business. Tailor it to our company and needs.
e. Outside counsel “over-selling” and/or “up-selling”. When pitching, communicate realistically and honestly about situation, potential and probable outcome, fees, and costs. Do not say at start “will only take X” then bill comes in at 3x that. Know your average costs per similar case/matter and do not “add on” midstream without prior approval.
f. Little understanding of our industry and/or company. Do research and prepare as much as you can, then ask questions about what do not know, may be assuming. Offer to do X# hours of research, site visits etc. to get up to speed, bill at lower flat fee or provide complimentary as a value add.
g. Not personally buying or using my product before pitching me.
h. Involving clients in law firm infighting re: billing credit. Unprofessional and ugly. Avoid at all costs.
Pet Peeves re: Outside Lawyers’ Overall Attitude
a. Outside lawyers need to become self-aware. There are numerous studies about lawyer’s behavioral tendencies. Know yours and try to minimize them. Arrogance or a superior attitude is rarely welcome. Outside lawyers are in the service business and should have an operate using a service-mentality.
b. Lawyers who “opt-out” of service-mentality. Even lawyers who charge over $1K per hour are in the service business. There is no excuse to think that as an outside lawyer (even if charge over $1K per hour) are exempt from being communicative, responsive and operate using a client-centric approach.
c. Not paying attention. Listen, at least pretend like you care, educate us, and share relevant, non-attributed experience that can help for be useful to our company.
d. Not providing quality, responsive service. Even if we have agreed to a fixed/flat fee for certain work, do not give me the attitude/excuse that “your company is not paying us enough to get our top level of service”.
e. Don’t be an “a-hole”. Our company follows a “no a-hole” rule that applies to everyone, employees, outside vendors and all other vendors alike.
f. Not checking assumptions/presumptions. Outside lawyers make a lot of assumptions about clients and their work without even realizing it. Consider what you are assuming carefully and if you are not sure discuss with someone objective.
g. Insensitive to client’s pressures/situation/internal issues. If not sure, ask us what they are.
h. Not considering client’s perspective and/or preferences. Again, ask.
i. Lack of respect and/or acting arrogant towards anyone in client’s organization. This is not welcomed or tolerated. We value every company employee equally, no matter their position or role.
3 Pet Peeves re:Outside Counsel’s Approach to the Practice of Law-
a. Being mainly reactive rather than proactive. Discipline yourself, use technology to improve your proactivity habits when serving clients.
b. No consideration of internal clients and their time. Do not send me something the same day that needs to be reviewed and finalized by the end of that day. There are internal company clients that often need to be contacted and they may not be available on short notice. Plan to send me items that require internal review/approval at least 3 days before they are due.
c. Surprises. Clients HATE surprises, bad news. Try to discuss/consider all possible contingencies at the outset of work (i.e. plan was to take six depositions, but new information means could be up to four more). If there is a change- surprise, call (do not email) me the news. Do not simply email me the news and hope I received it. Call immediately. “One channel communication” is not good for important issues (i.e. outside counsel only emails or calls only). If very important, both call and email me ASAP.
d. With new matters-cases, not taking the initiative and lack of pre-planning – i.e. not taking the time to read our Outside Counsel Guidelines and/or not initiating a discussion with us re how they apply to this case/matter and what we expect. Obtain them, read/analyze them, and abide by them.
e. Lack of industry/company understanding – not knowing lingo, terms and not keeping up with developments. Not making an effort to do so.
f. Sticking on a position/advice. Advocate your position/advice, but be flexible. Consider the client may not agree with your position-take your advice exactly for numerous reasons of which the outside lawyer may not be aware.
Pet Peeves re:Outside Counsel’s Communications -
a. Lack of responsiveness and communication from outside lawyers is a huge pet peeve. Plan and schedule frequent communications with the client, even if just to say, “still have not heard re: X or just checking in”).
b. No bench communicated to client. Identify a key, back-up lawyer in your firm for the case/matter you are handling for our company. Introduce to in-house counsel (without charging the client), send contact information in case needed.
c. Waiver requests. When we initiate our relationship ask me about our company’s our policy/approach re waivers, i.e. is it on a case-by-case, blanket “no waivers”, etc. Or, if not possible, if you would like a waiver, call me, and ask, “what is your company’s policy on granting outside counsel waivers?” before asking for a waiver and explaining the situation.
d. Back-door/going behind the back of in-house counsel to ask for and/or get business. Alert or ask me ahead of time if you plan to have conversations/meetings with business units/other executives within our company, so that I am aware.
e. No case assessment before starting work. Initiate an “early case assessment” either once retained, or if not yet retained, clear conflicts then send me your assessment.
f. Errors, omissions, mis-spellings in legal documents/work product – plan to have your work product internally proofed for both typos and technology/context before sending to the client. Do not charge client for proof/review.
g. Not initiating a “lessons learned” at end of every engagement. Plan, schedule for an initiate asking me for an “end of engagement” review, whether by phone, at one of our offices. Send me a summary of lessons learned and do not charge me for the time. Or, note time spent on invoice and mark “complimentary” or “value-add, no charge”.
h. Loss of enthusiasm, passion, and/or commitment towards the client over time.
5 Pet Peeves re:Outside Counsel’s Service Quality and Service Delivery -
a. Not abiding by client’s Outside Counsel Guidelines. Ask for them, study/review them, and create a method to abide by them. Ask in-house counsel questions about them.
b. Not asking about, listening to, or following client’s instruction(s), policy(ies), approach and/or plan.
c. Lack of proportionality – I.e. drafting a memo, when a phone call will suffice. Little forethought, understanding client’s expectations, communication and/or coordination in service completion/delivery.
d. Poor responsiveness/timeliness and/or not asking about or responding in manner and time best suited to client’s preferences. Create an organized way to handle this internally. Use internal staff to support as appropriate.
e. Poorly communicating bad/potentially negative news or procrastinating informing us.
f. Make staffing additions and/or changes without prior discussion with client and approval.
g. Not tech-savvy or asking/suggesting uses of technology to create efficiencies/save money.
h. Timeliness - not allowing client sufficient time prior to deadlines to review and approve. Use a 3-day ahead rule and schedule it in your calendar.
i. Not taking responsibility and accountability for estimates and/or making changes/decisions in the scope/work without prior approval of in-house counsel. If you commit to a budget, abide by it. If changes are needed, call me to discuss them before doing the work and billing for it.
6 Pet Peeves re: Fees & Costs, Budgets & Budgeting, Billing & Invoicing -
a. Receiving and reviewing outside law firm invoices. Reviewing law firm invoices/bills is one of in-house counsel’s least favorite things to do and takes a lot of time. Think of ways to make it easier, less time consuming, more efficient, and transparent and how law firm invoices can add value-build the relationship. Many in-house counsel departments have moved and continue to move to flat/fixed fees for outside legal work to minimize internal time spent attending to law firm bills/invoices. Create, initiate a discussion about and offer me flat/fixed fees whenever possible.
i. Outside lawyers usually treat fees, costs, budgeting, billing, and invoicing as an after-thought. Instead, outside lawyers should embrace this, ask about, take great interest and responsibility for the above. As relevant, ask about internal outside counsel budget(s), any insurance coverage, secondary coverage, and self-retention as applicable.
ii. Not sticking to budgets-fixed fees. Embrace the fact that a budget and/or fixed fee is not an estimate – it should be abided by and if changes are needed, discuss with client before doing the work.
iii. Before starting work, ask me what my expected budget is for this case/matter. Also, discuss how we will communicate about and handle unexpected changes.
iv. If we agree on either a budget, or fixed/flat fee, stick with it/abide by it.
v. Going over-budget and billing for overage. Let me know ahead of time if exceeding budget and discuss before doing the work.
b. A lawyer’s hourly rate is not “all in” and being nickeled-and-dimed on invoices. Outside lawyer’s hourly rate should include copies, faxes, phone charges, proof reading, all miscellaneous costs that are needed to run a firm, etc.
c. Hourly rate increases without prior discussion and approval.
d. Marking-up any outside, out-of-pocket costs such as experts, travel, overnight delivery, etc.
e. Billing the clients for meeting-and-greeting other firm lawyers and/or informal, non-business related meetings/lunches, etc.
f. Typos, errors in pro forma, bills, invoices. Have proofed before sending to clients and do not charge for doing so.
g. Not customizing the firm’s billing format to client’s needs/e-billing system/technology. Ask client about use of technology for billing before starting work. Do not charge for time to get system set-up. Stop killing more trees by sending me cover, form letter for mailing bills. Summarize amount to and total cost to date on invoices where it is easy to read and track.
h. Sending invoices after 30-day and older invoices. Do not send client invoices 60-90 days late and expect to get paid the same day or week. Adopt and use a pro forma, billing, and invoicing system and discipline.
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