When picking which firm to instruct, quality of advice is more important than the fees they charge, in-house lawyers have said in RollOnFriday's survey of their sector.
Asked to vote on the key factor when instructing an external firm, top quality advice came top with the majority of instructing in-house lawyers. "You go externally because it's a question or a piece of work that cannot be answered or managed internally" said an in-house lawyer at a bank, "therefore, the quality of work is paramount".
What was extraordinary was the relatively little importance attached to the cost of that advice. Pricing came bottom for dozens of in-house lawyers, with only a small minority flagging it as their chief concern. "I made the mistake of instructing lawyers who came in cheaper only to find that they couldn't provide meaningful advice" said an in-house lawyer. He added "Now, I don't mind paying a premium as long as the advice is first class".
Good perks also ranked highly, although only with the right company. Trips to smart restaurants were an excellent idea, but only if the socially-awkward lawyers were left at the office. And do get out of the office. The cruddiest event, said one in-house lawyer, was small talk over warm beer while watching a football match in a firm's meeting room.
In-house lawyers' top tip for firms was to keep investing in tech and AI, and to accept that it would reduce the amount they could charge clients. And keep advice brief and phone calls short, they said. And send fewer, more concise emails, they pleaded. And lay on training for your clients to help them with their CPD, they noted with one eye on their practice certificates.
In-house lawyers also advised firms not to be cheap. If clients were paying a fortune for advice, then “pick up the tab for the taxi/pizza”. And don't duplicate work from deal to deal, but be bespoke and specific. "Savile Row not Top Shop".
Some in-house lawyers were unexpectedly humane, explaining that not only do they dislike midnight emails, they also dislike firms beasting their lawyers into the early hours. "The poor associate's work must suffer (as must his sanity)", said one. But it may be a case of out of sight, out of mind, where clients were uncomfortable about reminders that their work was being undertaken by an exhausted associate into the small hours. The end product may be first rate but, rather like sausages, it doesn’t do to think too much on what went into it.
Diversity mattered a lot more to some clients than to others. “I’m concerned with results, not who delivers them”, said one senior in-house lawyer. Although, “obviously I’m not going to instruct a bunch of racists”. If firms did make an effort toward achieving a diverse workforce, they had to be genuine. In-house lawyers said they could spot tokenistic policies that were “mostly noise and hot air”.
In the end, in-house lawyers wanted firms which made them look good. "I’ll be the one presenting the advice to our business", said one client. "So if it’s wrong, I’ll be the one who looks like an eggy-faced pillock.”