Society 54 gives you direct access to what In-House Counsel want from their lawyers and law firms. The interview below is from a recent phone conversation Heather had with Billy Packer, an Emmy Award winning former analyst for CBS Sports’ college basketball coverage.
Q: How do you use or have you used legal counsel?
A: Remarkably, Mr. Packer did not use legal counsel when he worked for the major TV networks, but preferred to handle his own negotiations. Currently, he does employ legal counsel on occasion for assistance in his real estate matters.
Q: What factors influence you when you have to use counsel?
A: Mr. Packer either “inherits a lawyer” due to projects that he purchases or is referred to counsel by a trusted source. Interestingly, his first question to counsel is not about success rates or previous experience, but rather about how much the work will cost. “I always ask about the money up front. It is how the attorney responds to that question that gives me a good idea as to whether or not I will move forward using that attorney.” He doesn’t ask the question to be confrontational or put the attorney on the spot, but feels that anyone he works with should be a “partner in the process” and not hired help. He wants to know that the attorney has worked on similar matters in the past and will prove to be a valuable resource during the transaction – not just someone checking boxes.
Q: What is something that has impressed you about a firm and/or attorney with whom you’ve worked?
A: “Most times for the matters for which I’m using counsel, the firm’s paralegals are doing the bulk of the work. Firms who make sure to introduce me to those professionals and allow me to build a relationship with them truly stand out. The paralegals are my go-to and provide such value during the process. I like to know who they are and have a relationship with them, not just the attorney(s).”
Q: How would an attorney with whom you work on a fairly substantial matter impress you daily?
A: He is always thoroughly prepared for meetings, and the effort is never unnoticed. He also is impressed and appreciative when the attorney tells him up front that a matter won’t exceed “x” dollars and doesn’t go over that amount. This gives Billy a clear understanding of what he will spend for the matter and allows him to budget appropriately.
Q: What are some mistakes that legal counsel has made when working with you?
A: Since Billy “inherits” counsel through projects in which he is investing, he had several stories that underscored the importance of attorneys knowing their client as well as their likes and dislikes. When working with one firm, Billy requested a flat-fee quote for the matter. The firm obliged and provided a quote based on the matter not going to court. The attorney with whom he worked spent the bulk of most meetings discussing various topics unrelated to the matter at hand. Eventually, the matter was settled and did not go to court. When Billy received the bill, it was for almost triple the flat-fee amount that was originally quoted. At no point along the way was he notified that the costs were increasing. After much back and forth, the bill was reduced but the experience remains a poor one. Not only has he not used this firm since, but will also not refer them to anyone else.
*This is why he asks the question about money up front.
Another time, Billy called the law firm with whom he was working to ask a question about a right-of-way issue on a property that he owned. He never received an answer to his question but a few months later received a bill from the attorney. He proceeded to call the firm and tell them that he would pay the bill “if and only if the firm could tell him what his question was, not the answer to the question” (which to this day, he has never received). The firm has never responded and the bill has not been paid.
“What a fun interview! Billy has some wonderful stories to share not only regarding the questions I asked but also about his time spent on NBC and CBS (see additional story below).”
– Client service is the most important aspect of a client/attorney relationship. Being responsive, communicating if and when the scope and price of a matter has changed prior to the end of the engagement, providing advice and counsel and finally, knowing what outcome(s) the client hopes to achieve through the engagement.
– Communication is key. Billy does not have a computer or email and prefers to conduct all meetings in-person or over the phone, vital information to know up-front when working with him. Even if your clients have every technology available, do you know how they like to correspond with you? Do you ask?
– Don’t always look for the problems in a matter, look for the opportunities. Clients appreciate the partnership developed when you take on the matter like it were your own, finding ways to improve and enhance the work. That is incredibly valuable.
Because I couldn’t let him get away without asking about his days on air, Billy provided the following story:
As previously stated, Billy preferred to work directly with top executives within the network. While at NBC, he had a new programming idea that he was pitching to top executives in New York City. Before he was finished with the pitch, the head of NBC sports entered the room and stated that Billy was the “talent,” not a part of creating new programming, and dismissed him from the meeting. Around the same time, CBS was trying to woo Billy to their network. After walking out of the NBC meeting, Billy returned a call to the head of CBS Sports and told him that it was time to talk. He provided the network with a list of what he wanted, the programming that he would provide as well as suggestions for how they could work best together. This led to his move and subsequent 27-year career with CBS.
Everyone in your organization has something to offer. Ideas for improvement come from many places – don’t dismiss anyone because you feel that their thoughts and ideas are outside of their job function – you never know what magic could happen!
Billy Packer served as the lead analyst for CBS Sports’ college basketball coverage. He won a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst in 1993. Packer grew up as the son of a coach at Lehigh University and in 1958 was a Pennsylvania All-State basketball selection and two-time Connie Mack Pennsylvania Baseball most-outstanding-player. From there, he and went on to attended Wake Forest University from 1960-1962 where he was an All-ACC guard. He led his team to two ACC titles and appeared in two NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four in 1962. He currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina and invests in real estate.