Dust drives me nuts. I often spend hours on the weekend with my vacuum in tow on the hunt for hidden piles of dust in my house. A few years ago my wife bought me a top-of-the-line Miele vacuum for my birthday. I ripped it out of the box like a little kid on Christmas Day, eager to fire it up and take it for spin. It was the best present ever.
So you can imagine how torturous it was to have my kitchen remodeled recently. Every day I would return home to find my floors and furniture covered in a fine layer of construction dust. It got so bad that I called up my general contractor and threatened to fire her if she didn't tell her workers to be more careful. She said she would take care of the problem, but she didn't. I kept calling, and she kept ignoring me. She knew I didn't have the guts to fire her and bring in a whole new team of workers. I controlled the purse strings, but she controlled the relationship.
As this month's cover story reveals, the same problem is plaguing in-house counsel. Although you pay your law firms' bills, your firms run the show. They know that most in-house lawyers believe it's more disruptive to replace a firm than to live with poor service. In the long run, that not only reduces the legal department's effectiveness, but also reflects poorly on you as a manager.
It's pretty shocking what in-house lawyers will put up with. According to our survey, 42 percent of readers believe that most law firms paid their bills. About a third said the level of law firm service hasn't improved over the past five years, and 71 percent said that most law firms aren't actively seeking ways to reduce the costs of the legal services they provide. In addition, 47 percent said that law firms don't understand their budget constraints and 43 percent said that law firms make too much money.
One ray of hope in the survey is that about a third of respondents believe law firm services are a commodity.
The question, though, is when will in-house counsel start treating their firms as commodity providers? Few do. According to our survey, only 34 percent of respondents have fired or plan to fire any of their firms this year.
Only when in-house counsel begin treating firms as commodity providers will firms realize that the way to differentiate themselves from the pack is not by hiring big-name attorneys or opening offices in every corner of the country--it is by improving customer service and reducing legal fees.