Chapter Events: 2014 Annual GC Forum: “What Keeps Us Up at Night” (Luncheon, October 23, 2014)

by Guy Alvarez on November 23, 2014

The chapter’s 3rd annual General Counsel Forum once again filled the room with legal marketing professionals anxious to hear what is most on the minds of general counsel in the New York metropolitan area.

This year’s GC Forum, held on October 23 at the NYSSA, featured three top in-house counsel from leading firms in three major New York industries – Real Estate, Financial Services, and Accounting:

  • Jason Greenblatt — EVP & Chief Legal Officer to Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization
  • Edward Holmes — General Counsel and Senior Managing Director of AIG Investments
  • Scott Univer — General Counsel, WeiserMazars LLP

Aric Press, Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief at American Lawyer Media moderated the panel, as he had the two previous GC Forums.

This year’s GC Forum was centered around the theme of “What Keeps (GCs) Up at Night?”  The panelists tossed and turned over a wide range of issues impacting law firms and their business development efforts.

Mr. Greenblatt, who manages a team of nine attorneys and is in charge of all Trump deals, emphasized that the lawyers’ focus must always be on getting the deal done.  His biggest concern is ensuring that all of Mr. Trump’s deals are delivered on time, under budget and reflected accurately by the media, emphasizing those goals need to be the focal point of outside legal counsel as well.

Mr. Holmes, whose team is made up of 35 attorneys and 35 support staff in 8 offices in the U.S. and Europe, identified familiarity with regulatory issues such as Dodd Frank in the U.S. and European Union regulation issues as his “top of mind” concerns.

He and his AIG legal team are also focused on the importance of relationships: how they can drive down costs and lead to more effective communication.  He said he often only hires lawyers with whom he already has an existing relationship.

Mr. Holmes additionally stressed how lawyers and law firms need to be more client-centric in their approach.  For example, they should create marketing materials that are specific to the needs and issues facing that particular client.

Mr. Univer of WeiserMazars was specific with his prime concern.  He told the audience that information storage management is the most pressing issue with which he and his team deal. With the immense amount of information and date available today, as the result of email, social media and digital communication, the ability of an organization – and its outside counsel – to manage and store all that information adequately becomes critical. This is especially challenging for clients in regulated industries (pharmaceuticals, financial services, healthcare), which have fairly strict document retention requirements and guidelines.

Mr. Univer also discussed his belief that the litigation process in this country is flawed. He believes that the people who are involved in the litigation process (lawyers) control that process and that this is problematic because the incentives are not lined up correctly to achieve success. In other words, if the client is looking either to avoid litigation altogether or shorten the litigation process, outside law firms do not have the incentive to do this because their fees are based upon the amount of time they dedicate to the litigation. Thus, the longer the litigation, the more money the law firms make. That is why he believes that arbitration clauses are a must in any type of contract.

Mr. Greenblatt addressed legal fees in response to a question about success-based legal fees. He indicated that the difficulty with such an approach is determining what exactly success looks like and agreeing on it at the outset of the litigation matter..

Mr. Greenblatt also spoke about the importance of including staffing information in pitch books. He said that when law firms send him pitches, one of the things he looks at closely is whether the right team with the right level of seniority is being assigned to his matter.

Some of the other key issues the GCs raised included billing arrangements, burnt-out associates, unsolicited content such as alerts and newsletters (“I have a file for those things and it’s round,” stated Mr. Univer of WeiserMazars), and law firm surveys and rankings, which they mostly ignore.

But one thing no one should ignore, Mr. Univer advised the attendees, is that attorneys need to remember they should concentrate on making their clients look good instead of making themselves look good.

To see photos of the session, click HERE

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