Our panel of experts tackle the latest in a series of questions for our monthly career clinic.
“I’m an in-house legal head who has just completed a very time-consuming panel review. I wanted to get it right, so I went into a lot of detail, and the whole process took several months. In the end, I chose two firms with which I felt really comfortable. Firm A was my preferred provider, with Firm B being used for lower-value and conflicts work.
I’ve just found out that the partner from Firm A who led the pitch is being sent to the Middle East for three or four years. I pretty much chose the firm because of him as he really understands our business, so I’m really annoyed that I’ll now be fobbed off with his partner, with whom I have zero chemistry. What should I do?”
Isabelle Meyer: Legal Director at Moët Hennessy Europe
As you mentioned, a panel review is a time-consuming exercise, but it’s best to get it right from the start.
If you chose Firm A because of the partner who led the pitch, it would be wise to go back to them to ask who has been assigned to take the lead on the relationship after the departure of the partner who is relocating to the Middle East.
“If the in-house team and retained law firm are not aligned, driving results may be extremely difficult”
If this firm wants to be retained on a long-term basis, it should understand that you need to be comfortable with the team that will advise your company and, in particular, with the partner in charge of the relationship. You should ask to meet that partner and the member of his or her team with whom he or she will be closely working. If you remain unconvinced, don’t be afraid to revoke your decision about the firm.
The relationship between a law firm and the in-house legal team of a company is key. An in-house team usually has a lot to deal with internally, so must be able to rely on external counsel and not have to spend too much time explaining the issues at stake, the ways of working and what matters to them and the company they work for. If the in-house team and the law firm don’t understand each other or are not aligned, driving results may be extremely difficult.
In conclusion, it may be worth spending a little more time in discussions with Firm A to ensure the partner who is now in charge of the relationship, as well as his or her close team, are properly suited for the job at hand.
Richard Shoylekov, Group general counsel, Ferguson
Did you appoint the partner or the firm? The benefit of appointing a panel firm should be that you have confidence in the strength of their depth and breadth – at least in your chosen areas. Your thorough vetting process should have assured you that you have a team you can rely on.
“The benefit of appointing a panel firm should be that you have confidence in the strength of their depth and breadth”
Has Firm A offered you an equivalent partner? The sooner you discuss this and express your disappointment, the better you can deal with it and repair whatever damage has been done to your working relationship.
If, however, it was the partner you bought into, did you make that clear during the selection process? Did you say how key he or she was to the account and the relationship, and did you elicit assurances from him or her and the firm that it fully appreciated this?
If you did, you’re entitled to be disappointed, but if the importance you placed on this partner wasn’t made clear, then neither he or she nor the firm can be expected to feel guilty – these things happen, after all. If, for you, there’s no plan B with that firm, there’s always Firm B.
Michael Chissick, managing partner, Fieldfisher
There’s always a risk in selecting a firm on the strength of the lead partner and your chemistry with them. Often, the lawyers working with that partner and the team
supporting them are just as important in terms of the quality of work and service they will provide.
You have three options: stay with Firm A and ask to be assigned another relationship partner; rerun the panel review, using the lessons gained from the first review to go back to runner-up firms, retaining Firm B for lower-value work; directly approach whichever firm was your second choice without repeating the panel process.
Chris Anderson, head of legal services, Everton FC
You are the client, so it really shouldn’t be the external supplier that is dictating who you instruct – ours is a service industry, after all. I’d start by checking the terms of your company’s panel appointments and see what flexibility you have to go off-panel.
After that, I’d recommend that you discuss with Firm A what your requirements and preferences are going forward, retaining the option of taking your business elsewhere if you simply don’t like what they are proposing.
The views expressed here are personal ones and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel’s organisations. If you’re a lawyer who wants to put a question to our panel of experts, email firstname.lastname@example.org