In an article called Hiring Lawyers by the Numbers Ursula Furi-Perry writes about the trend in corporate America for hiring decisions by outside counsel to be scrutinized by procurement officers. While these new policies are making lawyers both in-house and in private practice squirm and shudder, the real question is how to preserve the trusted relationship between corporate counsel and their outside lawyer in these changing times.
With other products, of course, procurement has been involved with purchasing decisions for years. Sales people in those situations have had to learn to sell based on value versus price. The old saying goes that the best sales people are consultants who listen to all of the customer’s needs including but not exclusively needs around price and budget. I think the same needs to happen within the legal profession.
In the “good old days” the conversation between in-house and outside lawyers could simply be about legal issues and the best way to solve them. Those times, of course, are long gone. Just because procurement is now involved does not mean we should allow the pendulum to swing the other way and talk only about price. The most successful lawyers talk not just about what makes them a great lawyer in substantive areas, but also about what differentiates them in terms of delivering value for money.
Along these lines, I remember once the general counsel of a large corporation told me that the best way to control costs is to choose the exact right lawyer for the exact right matter. There are many variables and data points to consider, and it is increasingly important for the lawyer-as-sales-person to become skilled at pointing out both the characteristics that should be considered in the buying decision which, ideally, are unique characteristics of the outside lawyer.
And, of course, corporate counsel also want a good working relationship with outside lawyers. So the more the outside lawyer understands this new pressure and brings creative solutions in handling procurement, the more likely the trust in the relationship not only survives but grows.