The Q&A below is from a recent interview we conducted with Scott Mansfield, Vice President/ State Underwriting Counsel, Chicago Title Insurance Company.
Q. What are some things that outside counsel have done that have made a positive impression and/or impact?
A. I am most impressed (and likely to use) attorneys who are flexible and able to handle and address deadline changes, fee sensitivity, and expansion or contraction of the project they are being hired for. All other things being equal we will always choose to hire attorneys that are easy to work with. We have had attorneys agree to waive or lower fees and also agree to drop everything if necessary to meet a new deadline for us. This makes an impact. Our favorite attorneys will usually defer to us on matters regarding fees, and I think they come out way ahead even if they have to sacrifice some fees on individual projects from time to time. When attorneys are inflexible about fees or deadlines we are unlikely to use them again.
Q. Do in-house counsel care if your outside counsel is a super/best/elite lawyer?
A. No. Those lists seem to be driven largely by support within law firms and self-promotion and don’t mean anything to me.
Q. What law firm trends are you seeing that you would like to either end or continue?
A. Hourly rates have gotten outrageous at the large firms, especially for young associates. I would love to see larger firms recognize that their first and second year associates don’t know very much and are learning on the job, and adjust their rates downward.
Q. What advice would you give to a junior associate at a law firm?
A. Always be responsive to email and voicemail. Even if just to say “I got your message and will get back to you later.” When we hire counsel we need to get someone engaged and move on, so if we don’t hear back very quickly we are likely to go to the next name on the list.
Q. What are the biggest mistakes outside counsel can make? (What should law firms avoid?)
A. Overbilling. In-house counsel is often hired to absorb some of the fees paid to outside firms, reflecting fee sensitivity, so rates and fees must be considered and adjusted in order to keep getting work. Also making constant phone calls to discuss the project, if not absolutely necessary. And lack of responsiveness.