A Focus on Value
In 2017, we introduced the "voice of the client" to our quarterly LMA Board meetings, inviting a client representative to each meeting to share their perspectives.
The first part in the "Voice of the Client" series featured Steve Harmon, vice president and deputy general at Cisco, sharing ways in which he measures success, how law firms can better serve clients and four trends to watch. The second part featured Justin Ergler, director of alternative fee intelligence and analytics at GlaxoSmithKline, sharing his perspective on the role of procurement in the legal buying process, the value business professionals play in client relationships and the importance of pricing and project management in law firms. The third part featured Ama Romaine, general counsel at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, on the topic of embracing disruption and fostering innovation.
At our October Board meeting, we were joined by Chris Ende, law firm pricing, solutions and panel management leader at General Electric (GE). He started his career as a litigator at Goodwin and an assistant district attorney with the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. He then rejoined Goodwin as a litigation practice manager, moving to managing director of pricing and project management before joining GE in 2016. Ende is an active contributor to LMA's P3 Conference.
Here are a few key takeaways from his presentation:
- He described the overarching goal of his role is to build better relationships with the law firms that serve GE.
- When Ende joined GE, he was asked to manage the company's existing preferred provider law firm program. He would routinely receive calls from GE in-house counsel around the globe seeking a list of preferred providers for select matters (e.g., who to hire for complex regulatory work in a specific country). While Ende could provide a list of approved law firms, he was challenged to provide data that would help in-house lawyers make an informed decision among a short list of qualified firms. He knew the company had a "gold mine" of data in various technology systems, and joined several others from GE’s legal operations and IT teams to organize and present the data to drive more informed, data-driven selection of outside counsel.
- The team sought to incorporate both financial data (e.g., billing data, billing rates) and subjective data (e.g., how well did the firm deliver value?) into an integrated system. GE had traditionally solicited subjective feedback on an annual basis from its in-house attorneys with a long list of questions on a 5-point rating scale. When the data scientists reviewed responses, they found that many in-house attorneys had ranked outside law firms with “fives” across all questions and most others had ranked law firms with a combination of twos and threes. Based on that analysis, the team knew they needed a system that was simpler, easier and faster; sought feedback at the right time; and would provide more useable and differentiated data.
- The team determined that the best time to solicit feedback from in-house lawyers was right after they approved law firm invoices. Upon approval, the in-house lawyers receive an email asking them to select one of three emojis ― happy, neutral or sad — and then pick any combination of words from a pre-defined word bank to describe why that particular emoji was chosen. They can also provide additional feedback in an open text field. The application, titled GE Select Connect, already contains over 1,000 pieces of feedback gathered since its launch in January 2017.
- Ende noted that the application continues to evolve to provide additional information. For example, he said the team needed to identify key partner contacts at each firm as well as geographic coverage data. They expanded GE Select Connect to include an online portal for firms to provide key information, such as relationship partner, diversity lead, pro-bono lead, billing lead and office locations. Going forward, he seeks opportunities to find additional ways to leverage GE Select Connect as a collaborative tool with law firms.
- Ende described how changes in the legal industry are affecting the client-law firm relationship, especially the increased emphasis on an open market model. While law firms have traditionally sought the "trusted business advisor" role with their clients, the open market model has now created a spectrum of client-law firm relationships, and in some cases a law firm might be classified more as a vendor similar to vendors in other commodities.
- He emphasized the importance of value in client relationships. Ende noted that "you will see a greater awareness of legal departments about the concept of value. I don’t hear enough of that coming from the law firms — I'm surprised. Law firms are always promoting their best people and expertise — these are often table stakes. You have to be able to truly articulate value." He also tied value to risk. "Most law firms define risk within what they can control. But clients can't control most risks either ...” Ende recommended that firms should ask themselves: “How do you truly show you will invest in their risk?"
- Ende also recommended that law firms better understand each client's business, industry and goals. "Every client has very individual needs and goals. Outside law firms need to talk about what is important to GE." He sees greater client focus from law firms that have dedicated GE teams — "it [client teams] actually makes a difference."
- He reflected on the development of the pricing/practice management function within law firms over the past five years, including LMA's Client Value SIG and the P3 Conference. He noted that development of the client-side operations function has taken off recently, with the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) expecting 1,000 attendees at their third annual conference in 2018.
In all, he shared a challenge many legal operations professionals face: "It can be hard to keep focused on a high-level, long-term strategic vision when people are looking at you asking 'how can you help drive value and savings right now?'" He encouraged legal marketers to keep that client perspective in mind when counseling attorneys on business development.
Several of Chris Ende’s past presentations at LMA programs are available in the LMA Learning Store:
Jill Weber, the 2017 LMA President, is chief marketing and business development officer for Stinson Leonard Street, where she is responsible for creating and executing marketing and business development strategies, including Fast Forward®, a nationally recognized integrated business development initiative. Jill was named to the National Law Journal’s inaugural list of "50 Business of Law Trailblazers & Pioneers;" is a fellow in the College of Law Practice Management; was recognized as a 2009 “Unsung Legal Hero” by Minnesota Lawyer; was the recipient of the 2007 EXCEL Minnesota Award, sponsored by the Minnesota Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators; and has received three national and 19 local Legal Marketing Association (LMA) “Your Honor” awards. She is the 2017 LMA president and was co-chair of the 2012 LMA Annual Conference. She has attended Harvard Law School’s “Leadership in Law Firms” executive education program. Jill offers more than 20 years of experience creating marketing and business development strategies for professional service firms, including law firms, accounting firms and financial institutions. Jill successfully led the marketing communications strategy for the Stinson Leonard Street merger in 2014 and is actively involved in ongoing integration and client growth strategies.