In this episode of Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia and guest-host Cash Butler talk to Debbie Hoffman and Jeremy Potter about how they run an effective corporate legal department. They go into detail about implementing technology, measuring the value of legal services, and their vetting process for outside counsel. They also discuss working with small law firms and address the question of how small is too small to hire?
Debbie Hoffman is the co-founder and CEO of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors.
Jeremy Potter joined Quicken Loans in 2016 as an associate counsel in the Legal Department.
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, Answer1, and Thomson Reuters Firm Central.
The Legal Toolkit
How to Vet Outside Counsel and Other Lessons from Corporate Lawyers
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hey, welcome to another extra-special episode of The Legal Toolkit on Legal Talk Network. And this one really is extra-special.
If you were looking for the latest episode of episode of Peppa Pig, don’t worry, I have it DVR’d. If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first time listener, hopefully you will become a longtime listener. And if you are Don Aase, I know I have your 1986 Topps Baseball Card around here somewhere.
As always, I am your host, Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod, I am the Founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management, consulting services for law firms and Bar Associations. Check us out at HYPERLINK “http://www.redcavelegal.com/”redcavelegal.com to find out more. That’s HYPERLINK “http://www.redcavelegal.com/”redcavelegal.com.
You can also listen to my other, other podcast, The Lobby List, a family travel show I host with my wife Jessica on iTunes. Subscribe there, rate us and comment. That’s The Lobby List, because my kids are so spoiled, they rate resort lobbies, that’s true.
Here on The Legal Toolkit though we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more and more like best practices.
And in this episode we are going to talk about how corporations assign value to outside legal counsel.
But before I introduce today’s guests; yes, we have a couple, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
First, Answer 1 is a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can find out more by giving them a call at 800-Answer-1 or online at HYPERLINK “http://www.answer1.com/”www.answer1.com.
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Also we would like to thank our sponsor, Thomson Reuters’ Firm Central, a cloud-based legal practice management that streamlines your day and automates non-billable administrative tasks so you can accomplish more with less.
All right, we have got a lot to go through today, so pay attention.
First, I have a guest host and that’s Cash Butler, the CEO of ClariLegal. Cash, can you introduce yourself.
Cash Butler: Yes. As Jared said, I am a CEO of ClariLegal, and I have about 20 years of being a service provider in the legal vertical market, helping successfully grow two e-discovery hosted review service vendors over my career.
This current company that I am CEO of is once again ClariLegal. We are a cloud-based legal services vendor and project management platform that improves customer outcomes. We manage corporations and law firms with the service providers they need to do their work and put them through a fast, yet complete RFP and bidding process. So our client segments realize time and money savings as well as improved outcomes.
I am really excited to be on the show today Jared and co-hosting with you.
Jared Correia: Thanks Cash. I don’t let anybody co-host, but you do have a really cool product, so here we are. I am waiting for you to come out with your namesake software called the Cash Butler, which just gives money to people, but I will hold out a little while longer for that.
Cash Butler: My brother suggested should be the Cash Register.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s not worse too. In addition to Cash’s co-hosting, we have two other guests and these are some big time folks, so let’s go through them one by one.
First, we have Debbie Hoffman, who is the Co-Founder and CEO of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors. So Debbie, can you tell everybody a little bit more about you and what you do?
Debbie Hoffman: Sure. Of course. Hello. So I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors. Symmetry helps organizations with their blockchain, ICO, and crypto endeavors. And what that really means is if companies are trying to figure out where they can implement blockchain or how they can do it, our company helps them across that platform, from strategy through implementation, architecture and operations.
Second, just to give you a little background, I was general counsel of a national company and the head of Legal North America for a global company and I also worked at a large Wall Street law firm for a decade prior to that.
Jared Correia: Thanks Debbie. Next, let’s talk to Jeremy Potter. Jeremy is an Associate Legal Counsel or the Associate Legal Counsel for Quicken Loans. So Jeremy, please introduce yourself as well.
Jeremy Potter: Hi Jared. Thanks for having me. At Quicken Loans, we bring Rocket Mortgage to the market from downtown Detroit. I am in-house, covering corporate, operation, mortgage and other legal issues.
Prior to joining Quicken Loans I was the general counsel of a midsized mortgage company on the East Coast.
So thanks, I am looking forward to talking with you.
Jared Correia: Thanks Jeremy. So Debbie, Jeremy, doing things far above my pay grade, but this is a fantastic set of guests, so thank you both for being on the show.
We are just going to jump into the questions here, which we want to do.
So Debbie, Jeremy, and let’s have Debbie answer this question first, what do your organizations consider to be the most important measures in running an effective legal department? And I know Debbie you are diving in historically to answer this question. And do those values change over the course of time as new technologies emerge?
So let’s start with Debbie.
Debbie Hoffman: Sure. Thanks very much Jared. There are a number of things that you have to look at when you are trying to streamline the running of a legal department. Importantly, it is expertise and an organization, meaning the department knows how to work well together and then with their partners, their outside partners.
So you really have to be able to give each leader in your department enough autonomy to be able to make decisions and work with the people around them, within the department, outside the department, but you also have to develop a culture where you can — to make sure that those decisions get run up the ladder to the extent they need to be and that the head of the department has some idea and control and being able to make sure that they are not living in a silo and letting everybody kind of run loose.
So really important is really the organizational structure and the culture that everybody can work together.
Jared Correia: Makes sense. All right, Jeremy, do you have thoughts on this? I am sure you do because we invited you on the show, but go ahead.
Jeremy Potter: Sure. I think one of the keys we like to look for is clarity and that’s touching on a lot of what Debbie said, but that’s clarity in roles and responsibilities, clarity in how you communicate within the team, but it’s also clarity in how you communicate to your business clients or the other teams that make the company work.
So we like to say simplicity is genius and oftentimes internal legal teams, internal legal departments aren’t always known for clarity and simplicity, so we work very hard as a measure, as a metric, and we try to communicate that to our vendors and service providers as well, and make sure they are on board.
But those are some of the keys that we look at from a cultural perspective to keep the team running smoothly.
Jared Correia: And in terms of like new technologies that you could use within the legal department or with vendors that you work with, like how do you try to on board those and how do you keep an eye out for things that are going to make you more efficient in terms of technology? And Jeremy, why don’t you tag on to that discussion.
Jeremy Potter: Sure. We are lucky to work — I am lucky to work at a technology company, so being in-house we have a lot of connections, not only within our company, but within our industry to understand how new technologies are being leveraged for efficiencies, for organization. That can be something as simple as a Slack or a Microsoft team’s Typo technology, where it will help simply bringing that on board for the very simple fact of being able to chat quickly, communicate quickly, collaborate quickly, something that simple, to as complicated as new doc management systems or new internal billing systems.
You have to have somebody within the team, whether that’s an attorney who raises their hand and wants to lead that project or more likely a technology project manager, see those things through.
And so we kind of try to absorb as much as we can from our industry and then deploy that through the use of some internal resource on our team.
So yeah, we are always on the look out and I think it is very important to try to get every inch you can to be a better team.
Jared Correia: That’s awesome that you use Slack, a criminally underrated business tool in my opinion.
Debbie, do you have anything to add to that?
Debbie Hoffman: Yeah, I think I take similar — some of the similar approaches, but a couple of different things.
So the first thing is I would say just to be acutely aware of the technology around you. I think it’s incredible — the amount of technology that’s coming out is incredible, so to be able to read, to talk to people, to always be kind of looking at what’s around you. Now, that being said, there’s so much, so obviously one person doesn’t have time to go through all of it and test all of it.
So in the departments I have led, it depends on what the need would be. But for instance, if we were looking at a legal research technology company and we wanted to compare it with what we were using, we would spend a few months and test the various vendors and determine if what we are using was still the best or if there were better options out there.
So you can again bifurcate the duties in terms of what kind of technology you are looking for, whether it is that document management, whether it is a research or some other brand-new tool that can transform your department.
And then the other thing I would also always look at is whether this is something worthwhile buying or if it’s something a little more simplistic and you might actually be able to build it within the team yourself. I mean there’s advantages and disadvantages of both, it really depends on what’s being offered.
Jared Correia: Yeah, those are great points. And now Cash has you for your next question.
Cash Butler: So I guess we will start with Debbie. What do you or your department look at to determine the value of what you are doing, and currently, how do you measure, identify and measure the value for delivering legal services to your organization?
Debbie Hoffman: There’s a number of factors that have to be measured and whether you can — everybody has different approaches. You can do it in a very formal way. We all now know we get those surveys from every vendor we have ever used in our lives. And you can use that kind of an approach in a legal department and have a number of different measurements. You can also — within that I think the measurements are types of delivery success, client happiness, ease of use, and outcome type of thing.
And then of course there’s — I don’t even know if you can put a value on the relationship part of that, because if you have a vendor where you are not 100% happy with all those metrics, but you are able to have a communication with your vendor and change some of those things, because of the fact that the vendor takes you as a very serious client and values the relationship, I think some of that could — some of those very standard metrics can be overcome as well.
I think that you can’t undervalue, for instance, an outside counsel, the expertise. I think, again, that would be one of the metrics and the question is, if you are unhappy with that metric, you may not be able to overcome that hurdle if a law firm just doesn’t have the expertise in a certain area, that may be something that is a game changer.
Cash Butler: No, that sounds very on point. Jeremy, same question, how do you look at value internally and externally?
Jeremy Potter: It’s one of those things that’s very difficult to measure, because oftentimes when you are delivering legal services, as Debbie has implied, it’s a lot of expertise, it’s a lot of, what would be a soft skill or a harder thing to get numbers around.
We do do a lot of internal surveys, so we have an understanding of how our team feels about the collaboration and communication I talked about earlier. We get similar numbers that are standardized across the whole company for our business clients as well. And so that way we can understand is the speed something that the business cares about, where does it rank on their satisfaction. So that would go more to like internal client satisfaction, but speed.
How we are doing in terms of the size and scope of the team? We have got P&Ls to worry about just like everybody else. And I think that our main tool that we use to get at these measures is actually asking the right question. So we spend a lot of time saying, are we asking the right question, that’s internally or externally, are we asking the right questions of ourselves, are we asking the right questions of the vendors and service providers that Debbie mentioned, and how do we know?
And so we try to use as much data as possible. It’s not easy in an industry like legal or even regulatory compliance, something like that, to try to measure different things that would tell us how we are doing, and that we are actually delivering actionable intelligence on time in a straightforward way.
So we have built ways to do that. Like I said, the surveys definitely help, especially being standardized across time. And then we talk a lot about it and I think that helps as well.
Cash Butler: Both Debbie and Jeremy, great responses to that question and very interesting.
Jared, do you want to talk about the key stakeholders and customers and all that?
Jared Correia: I am prepared to do so. So Jeremy, Debbie, let’s talk a little bit before we get into the next section about who your key stakeholders and customers are, just so we can get a sense of where you sit in the industry before we ask some more in-depth questions.
And this time around let’s start with Jeremy.
Jeremy Potter: So for me the key stakeholders obviously are the business clients. We are running a mortgage company that puts out a variety of products through a variety of channels directly to the consumer or through other financial institutions to their consumer. And so as a result we have senior leadership, we have regulators and regulatory compliance concerns; you have already heard me mention it once. It’s an area of the company that I work a great deal on.
So not only is the customer a primary stakeholder, we have our senior leadership who are crafting these products and putting them out there. We have talked a little bit about technology. Obviously, it’s impossible to not have a variety of technology service providers and vendors that support your business that help you bring your product to market in a variety of ways.
So I think the amount of time and focus we spend on due diligence and vetting a variety of vendor service providers and business partners, whether that’s a simple marketing relationship business partner, all the way down to a core service provider of our business or of our cybersecurity or what have you.
So we like to think about our stakeholders broadly and we as an internal legal team think about the customer a lot, not just because of regulatory compliance, but it’s the culture of what we do and how we do it. And so I think that probably gives you a good sense of how we have to balance a variety of different stakeholders when you are delivering a consumer product like Rocket Mortgage.
Jared Correia: Yeah, cool. Hi, Debbie, go ahead.
Debbie Hoffman: So it’s really across the board. It’s very interesting about when you are in a legal department for any kind of company, you have a responsibility to both your clients and your vendors, and the companies I have worked at, we have served — our company was a vendor to other companies, and also we were a vendor and we also had our vendors, so we have kind of worn both positions.
So from that perspective, financial institutions, clients, vendors; clients being the financial institutions, and then of course your employees, you have — of course they are your stakeholders. There’s your executive leadership. Within that you have — we had a global leadership and different verticals. So you have to consider all those different verticals when you look at, for instance, something like in litigation vendors, what would work best, would it be silos, the different verticals, or do you work just within each kind of subsidiary or affiliate of the company to determine vendors. So do you look at a vendor from a global perspective or do you look at it, like I said, from a smaller perspective.
I also think your competitors are somewhat of — they are stakeholders because you want to compare and contrast what they are doing to what you are doing. So I don’t think it’s unusual to talk with your competitors and find out what they are doing so that you are relevant, so that you have good intelligence, and so that you are on the same page. And it wasn’t unusual to see, I would have a cup of coffee with a competitor to have those kinds of discussions, because we wanted to both be relevant to what kind of vendors we were using.
And then of course as Jeremy said, there is no question, the regulators are above everything in terms of you really have to make sure what you are doing is regulatory and compliant.
Jared Correia: Yeah, great answers. Thank you both. This has been a good first half of the show, but we are going to take a break now. Let’s talk about some vendors who can help you to run your law firm more efficiently. So this as always is all the stuff you need to buy.
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Jared Correia: Thanks for coming back. I have got Cash Butler, CEO of ClariLegal, who is co-hosting the show with me today. And we are talking to Jeremy Potter of Quicken Loans and Debbie Hoffman of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors about what corporate law departments look for in outside counsel and vendors.
So Cash has got you for the first question in this part of the show.
Cash Butler: So going back to managing external vendors, what kind of tools do you use, is it Excel Spreadsheets, is it some kind of a procurement tool, what type of tools does your organization or your department use to help you manage external law firms and e-discovery service providers, cybersecurity service providers, etc?
Debbie Hoffman: So that’s a great question, Cash. Our department had really looked for a way to do that, because when I entered the department I hadn’t found a tool at the time that really would work. There hadn’t been a lot developed. So we ended up building our own, and within building our own we looked at a lot of different things.
We came out with an initial survey when we on boarded and then we had a yearly review of the vendors, and within that it covered a variety of areas, including cybersecurity probably being the number one and then a whole host of other things.
The difficulty in that is that when you on board those vendors, a 10-page survey, you maybe, maybe you could get at the beginning, it’s really difficult to get that from every vendor, it’s sort of unrealistic. So we actually — we cut that down to a lot shorter than that.
And the other part about that that’s interesting is if you are going to vet your vendors that way, you also have to make sure you take the time and responsibility to review it, because if you see something in there, then you are — you have that responsibility, once they have come back with an answer that you — if you either have to review it and vet it and make sure you understand it and it’s sufficient, because you have some liability there, if they reveal something and then you on board them and they have revealed it.
So there’s no easy process, you either have to develop it or find a really good outside vendor vetting system.
Cash Butler: That’s a great response and a great answer to that question.
Jeremy, how about you?
Jeremy Potter: Sure. I think Debbie is exactly right. The complexity here makes it very challenging.
I will take a step back for a second and talk a little bit, we have a core set of ISMs and they are the core values that lead us and that determine our business, our behavior, our culture, and one of them that I think is relevant here is numbers and money follow, they do not lead.
And one of the reasons we say that is we try not to make decisions purely on that financial bottom line. If we make the best decision for the project or the best decision for the legal team or the best decision for the company, that’s actually our key, that’s our guiding principle and then we will see how the money and the numbers sort of fall out.
Now, practically speaking, that does turn into a procurement system and a billing system, much the way you described in your question, Cash. We have also decided to have some folks that sit on the legal team and coordinate very closely, almost as a liaison, between what we are doing, the projects, vendors and management systems that we have that Debbie already mentioned. So this person is called our Legal Project Champion, and they actually talk to enterprise risk management to get through some of those questionnaires, vetting, to actually dig through the responses as Debbie indicated.
They also have to coordinate with procurement. We have decided this is a person that needs to exist and help the legal team coordinate with procurement and enterprise risk management as we solve some of these problems. And then try to track them through what would be your pretty standard I think billing system or project management system. But we have tried to accomplish this with the combination of people and technology, but Debbie is right, it’s extremely complex.
Cash Butler: Yeah, in my experience — and great, great answer, my experience is it takes people, process, and the smart application of technology to really do anything well.
And sort of going back to the vetting and RFP process, when Debbie mentioned shortening the responses, the RFP process has sort of grown unwieldy over time. It used to be — it was started to have a little bit of information about a group of vendors where the buying entity could quickly and easily understand the service offering and if they were good or not and that’s sort of gone away.
I mean some of the RFPs I have seen are 200 pages and it’s impossible to get people to fill them out accurately or compare them. Spend the time to compare five or six proposals, back to Debbie’s point, I mean that’s a lot of work if they are 200 pages each and they are not sort of unified or standard.
Anyway, Jared, I will throw it back to you.
Jared Correia: Yeah, I understand there is a software product out there that will help to handle that, maybe you can talk about that later.
Does the Legal Project Champion get like a championship belt Jeremy, because if so, I am interested in that position, you just let me know?
Jeremy Potter: Hey, yeah, we will definitely let you know.
Jared Correia: Nice. All right, so this is a question that is relevant to a lot of my clients, like how do you vet your outside counsel, or in Debbie’s case, how have you vetted your outside counsel? What do you require them to have or to provide, including like items speaking to their business management competence?
Jeremy Potter: Sure, we have talked a little bit about expertise and I know we will talk more about that momentarily. I think one thing we look at right off the bat, again, you have heard me talk about culture quite a bit, so a desire and a willingness to understand our culture and understand our business has to be first and foremost. And so that can take a variety of different attempts or approaches, depending on the size of the ask, or the nature of the relationship, or sort of how we are going about it.
But we do put things in, in an RFP process from time to time, depending on what it is. We do send it out direct to several different places from time to time. But one of the things we are always looking for is how well or what’s the attempt to really understand our business, understand our culture, understand our connection to the consumer, and sometimes even understanding our connection to places where our offices are, understanding our connection to Detroit, Michigan to Cleveland, Ohio and some of the other places that our family of companies has decided to invest in.
So we try to take a very broad, deep and unorthodox view and just say, are we going to be able to work with this person, is this going to be somebody, a firm that’s going to be able to handle this? And obviously these things are all very based on the size or risk associated with the ask, but we look for experience and expertise.
Obviously, I think one of the big things that helps in the technology industry and in specifically financial services is how can we bring in experience from tangential case law or tangential industries. And the reason I say that is often we are tackling problems that are relatively new in terms of how technology applies to what can sometimes be older or out-of-date regulations or older or out-of-date case law that has to be updated for some new tool or some new question or some new technology. And so we have to look for firms that are dynamic and understand that we are going to have to do some new applications of law oftentimes.
And then I think lastly it’s understanding the commitment and the way that we are going to be able to connect, collaborate, communicate. There is that piece of just a good fit and understanding of what we are looking for at the price we are looking for, or what we are looking for at the size and scope of the project we are looking for and just being able to talk really straightforward.
I mentioned clarity earlier and just how clear can it be about what this is going to be and what we are going to accomplish together.
I know that’s sort of a fuzzy answer, but that’s oftentimes what it comes down to.
Jared Correia: No, I thought that was a really thoughtful response. Thank you.
So Debbie, your turn.
Debbie Hoffman: Thank you Jared. Jeremy, you hit on some really interesting points, I kind of want to start with those and reiterate those.
So the first is that I think you said understanding the local, kind of your — where your headquarters, where your various offices are, understanding the climate, if I can paraphrase a little bit, and I think that’s really important. You can use for sure a global firm, but they have to be able to understand your business and your area in which you operate, because culturally, again, from San Francisco to Orlando, I have seen it, there’s tremendous differences in the way things are done and you have to be able to be nimble enough or be able to be familiar enough to be able to work on those different kind of levels.
The second thing is I think I want to reiterate this because I see it all the time with blockchain, technology is growing faster than our laws, and if you have an attorney that isn’t able to be able to determine how to make some really interesting decisions for you — interesting and keep you in compliance within the law, but at the same time be nimble enough to say, well, this is maybe a possibility and not always say, well, the law says no.
There are times when the law says no, but I really need an outside counsel to understand that there has to be areas in which you might be able to be a little bit more creative.
I think that was one of the most frustrating things, I think it still is, when I use outside counsel, because when you are working in a company a lot of times executives want to do something and they are going to do it and you need to figure out a way to do it, so long as it’s not clearly against the law. And they just won’t come to a lawyer if the lawyer is like, no, we can’t do this. So you really have to, if at all possible, be able to find a outside counsel who can understand that and kind of work with you to maybe find interesting structural ways to do things.
Other than that, pretty basic stuff. I think expertise; that they have to know an area. If you are talking about securities, they have to know securities. If you are talking about intellectual property, you really do need a patent or a trademark or copyright, you need that expertise.
Speed in which an attorney responds is impeccably — it’s so important. How many outside counsel, they have not been able to work with me because I give them a call Monday and I don’t get a call back till, it could be as late as Tuesday night, but if I have an emergency going on Monday, I need them on Monday. And so even just a response saying I am in a meeting, but we will talk in three hours, it’s better than just no response, or just by within a few hours, it’s really important, somebody to take the call.
And then three is cost, so expertise, speed and cost. If they are in markets, depending on their expertise, depending on all those other things, I think cost has some fluctuations and they might be worth a higher price, but that does weigh into the decision.
Jared Correia: That’s great Debbie and I think that’s a problem with lawyers, generally, figuring out an appropriate and quick enough response time, so that’s great that you have added that.
And I think you both made some good points about like the cultural lag that takes place between how fast technology moves forward and how little ability the laws have to keep up with that.
So Cash, I am throwing it your way.
Cash Butler: Sure. If I were an outside counsel, what could I do to get your attention? What are some of the things that — I haven’t been working with you, how do I show expertise? How do I show responsiveness? How do I get your attention to potentially be a valued partner with you?
Debbie Hoffman: Sure. And I am going to just say, the most important thing I think is really showing expertise in an area. So when I think about my outside counsel, when I have a problem and I need outside counsel I kind of go through my head, like who do I know and who knows this area, and so it just naturally happens.
Sometimes you end up going through your email and trying to remember who does what, but if I know that somebody is an expert in a certain area and I need that type of law immediately within the next couple of days, I will go to them.
So being front and center as to your expertise, and this is done a variety of ways. Of course, there’s fantastic mailings and keeping up with the law. Sometimes the monthly mailings, to me, they can get a little lost in expertise. So what I really have noticed is if there’s a new decision that’s come out or a news breaking matter, it’s usually the first two law firms that come out with an analysis of it. There’s a lot of law firms that it comes out five days later. By then it’s old news. But the law firm that sends me an email, either within a day of that decision and helps me analyze what just happened is fantastic.
Again, a lot of things are just conversations. If somebody brings something to my attention and I see them as the expert, that’s another way that I will look to them. But again, it all comes down to how are they getting attention that they are cutting edge on this particular topic and that they have the expertise and the depth to be able to handle these certain areas of law.
Cash Butler: Yeah, that’s a spectacular answer. I mean it comes down to responsiveness. It’s just like the customer relationship, it’s being at the right place, at the right time, with the right information and in a consumable manner.
Jeremy, how about yourself?
Jeremy Potter: Yeah, I would like to answer the question and also pick up on what Debbie said, because I think sometimes outside counsel overstates or is overly concerned with the sort of breadth, depth and polished collateral or polished email that they send out and that’s kind of what could be causing them to be three to five days late or more.
The speed of the game, to Debbie’s point, the speed of the game is one of the biggest things that has changed in the last few years and that’s true of our companies as well as our legal teams. And so as a result we see all these really interesting emails and ways to connect through social media in our everyday lives. And yet a lot of them haven’t been adopted into our professional lives, especially by outside counsel.
And so just those simple notes, to Debbie’s point, I think are incredibly valuable. Sending an email periodically or when it’s relevant to say, have you thought about this, have you seen this. It doesn’t have to be the perfect banner, with the perfect contact information and links and all this stuff, it can be, and that can be valuable, but it can also just be here’s how I show that I know what you are doing and I know who you are and I know what you need.
It’s showing that expertise through a very normal human connection, how we collaborate within our own companies. And so when our outside counsel collaborates that way, it feels like it’s part of our business, it feels like it’s part of our day, and then when the item or a case or matter comes up a few days later, it’s almost natural to be like, oh, we were just talking about this or we just emailed on this. And so I don’t think that can be overstated enough, to Debbie’s point.
And then I also think that there are ways to show that that are creative and interesting. So I can’t help but mention that I did have a fascinating meeting with a potential outside counsel who actually brought their own book of their law firm culture and they matched up their — I mentioned our ISMs earlier, they matched up their view with ours, picked out some of the ISMs that overlapped and highlighted them in a way that showed they actually did some research and cared about these things that we care about, and that we hold valuable.
And I know some people can laugh and see that as gimmicky, but what it did was show that I understand who you are, I understand what you are about and I want to be a part of it. And then when you get that follow-up, that key follow-up to know, oh, they are working on that case or they are having success in that case and just a quick note really keeps them on top of mind.
And then I think there’s an organizational piece that just requires, as we mentioned, how you look at organizational history, how the firm has performed in increasingly or escalating matters of importance or size or risk and being able to keep an eye on that as well.
Cash Butler: Oh, that’s a great response. And actually, I am going to ask a little — so I have seen the corporate culture book that Quicken Loans has, I think it’s spectacular. Could you give just a little sort of brief, a couple of words about that, I think it’s really something that is vitally important for organizational alignment.
Jeremy Potter: Yeah, however you choose to accomplish it, it’s just really important to make sure that everybody on the team, all your team members, all your service providers and companies are on the same page with who you are. So we choose to do that through ISMs and through our ISMs book.
And so when you have orientation with Quicken Loans and with the family of companies, you are actually given the book and meeting with Dan Gilbert for an entire day to hear about how he started the company, how he runs the company, how he thinks about the company. Just imagine, it’s you, him and 2,000 of your closest friends. But that happens a couple of times a year, and you get to understand these things are just ways to remember. We don’t care who is right, we care what’s right. It’s not that that’s going to be deployed every single day, do the right thing is a constant in our company.
And so these actually help the internal legal team do what we need to do, because they reinforce a culture that we are already trying to drive through all of our teams and team members anyway.
But yeah, so that book is really one of those interesting quirky things about Quicken Loans that we all love, but it also helps outside counsel and service providers and vendors understand who we are. So we give them out a lot to service providers and outside counsel to say, if you want to know how our senior leadership is thinking, how our executives drive towards what’s important to ownership and to the Rock family of companies overall, here’s one thing or here’s a shorthand of what you can learn about us.
So it’s kind of a cool way to communicate that quickly to people outside the organization.
Cash Butler: Excellent. Excellent.
Jared Correia: I forgot about the Dan Gilbert connection to Quicken Loans. I am a Celtics fan so I am going to not say anything further about that.
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Jared Correia: Thanks for coming back. How was your tangwich? Let me tell you, I love a good tangwich.
We are back here now talking with Debbie Hoffman of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors and Jeremy Potter of Quicken Loans about how corporate law departments engage vendors and outside counsel.
So I have got a few more questions here, so let’s jump into it. At what level would you or do you work with smaller law firms and how small is too small?
Debbie Hoffman: Jared, I don’t think that there is such a thing as too small in certain cases. Now, when you have a high profile case and you have to get — for instance, maybe need to get an opinion or a memorandum for your board, you probably want to use a larger name firm that everybody will recognize. If the news wants to pick it up, they can pick it up, it’s a well-recognized firm, it’s high profile.
But if you are filing a patent, if you are doing something that is more of a routine type of legal expertise that you need and maybe not just filing a patent, but doing certain kind of, maybe you need a tax opinion for something you are filing that you don’t think is going to rise — it doesn’t seem to be to rise to that level, you might just use the best expert you know which could really even kind of think, yeah, we have — in large companies we have used solo practitioners for something like that, and we have used small firms.
In fact, we even used a solo practitioner on a fairly high profile case because that practitioner was very well known in that area. So I think that it depends on what you are using the firm for; again, their reputation and their expertise depending on the need that you are using them for.
Jared Correia: Awesome. All right Jeremy, go ahead.
Jeremy Potter: I would agree with Debbie wholeheartedly. There is no specific criteria around size, but you do have to take it into account in terms of leveraging resources or various things depending on the size and scope and risk of the project. But from just a pure size law firm perspective, how small is too small, Debbie is exactly right, you can find an expert solo practitioner that just knocks it out of the park.
And in fact, I don’t mean to go too far down the sports metaphor road, but Moneyball is something I think about a lot, and that thinking of how do you evaluate value, are we looking at the right things? There’s a lot of times where what would often in corporate law departments be considered a small firm or too small a firm or sometimes you will even hear boutique thrown around, and I think that if you are going to make those references, they have to fall into a metric that’s relevant to that specific need or project. Otherwise, you should be looking at who is going to deliver value based on who you are and what you need and not based on sort of arbitrary measures like that.
So getting a way to evaluate those things quickly, it does matter, how many people could be working on my case and what resources could be leveraged to make sure we win, those types of things do matter, and you want to be able to see those as outside counsel presents to you and see them clearly and easily up front. But not weigh them too heavily when what you are really worried about is value and the outcome.
Jared Correia: Awesome. So solo lawyers, I hope you are listening to that. All right Cash, bring us home.
Cash Butler: Well, are there any initiatives or movements in the management of corporate legal departments that you are particularly excited about or that you may be part of that you can share with us?
Jeremy Potter: I have been talking to some folks and thinking a lot about the role of legal expert in-house versus more of a legal strategy. And so I have thought a lot about how general counsels are viewed, how deputy or associate general counsels are viewed, and it is interesting to see that there is sort of a rise of more of a Chief Legal Strategy Officer.
And as the regulatory landscape, data privacy, technology overall, but within that, the regulatory landscape, data privacy landscape, the way consumer marketplaces are popping up in different industries, including financial services, but also all over the place, direct-to-consumer, this or that, I have been thinking a lot about how companies are preparing in-house for that sort of legal strategy that takes into account a bunch of different areas of risk, including public relations, reputational and cybersecurity.
So I don’t know how companies are responding and whether this is actually fitting into a movement or initiative that you are asking about, but I have been thinking a lot about it because it does require a new set of skills and time in your day to set aside as a leader to think how are we deploying an overall strategy that takes all these things into account.
Cash Butler: I agree with you wholeheartedly.
Debbie, how about you?
Debbie Hoffman: My answer is slightly different in terms of the movements, just much more I guess siloed or concrete, but I think I want to bring those up anyway. I would say there’s three or four things.
Number one is crisis management and awareness. I think that legal departments really need to take the lead on having plans ahead of time, and it kind of goes with marketing, but I think legal really owns it for crisis management. So that when that happens there’s a game plan to follow.
It happens very quickly. I have been in companies where there are — I mean pretty much every company will have a crisis at some point and you have to know what to do and you can’t be like a deer in headlights, oh, how do we do this, who do we call, so you have to have that, number one.
Number two is kind of along with that, it doesn’t have to be the same thing, but cyber awareness. So the crisis could be cyber, but it doesn’t always have to be. It could be something much more innocuous and something like an employee issue that you didn’t expect. But then the second thing would be cyber awareness, having your cyber preparedness, and you can’t just leave that to IT anymore.
I always fought very hard to make sure that legal owned that along with your tech and your InfoSec people, because you need to make sure you work hand in hand on that and have your tabletops and be prepared.
The third thing is, this goes along with kind of what Jeremy was saying too, being able to grow your talent and have your team and your legal experts, I like to say grow from within.
I always focused a lot on legal interns and growing them from within and making sure that they understand the company culture and grew in their expertise. You need both. You need to make sure that these interns or these staff members grow from both an expertise level into — and the culture and they fit in, and a great way to do that is just start right at the law school level.
And then the fourth and the last I think important thing is obviously vendor management. It hits on so many different parts of the legal department and you are going hand in hand with procurement, but legal owns that and they need to make sure that it’s properly addressed, like we talked about from the RFPs on.
Cash Butler: Well, that’s great. I would be remiss not to mention Saturday Cup of Joe that Jeremy pushes out every Saturday. Do you want to just speak just a quick little bit about your Saturday Cup of Joe email list?
Jeremy Potter: Sure, thanks. I mean you have heard Debbie and I talk a little bit about some of those values, leadership, some of these more, what I will call abstract or other issues, and I like to think about those and write about those. So as I see things that are affecting FinTech or technology, legal technology in particular, in-house issues, I like to just pass them out to friends, similar to what we were talking about earlier, just shoot it out every week, hey, this is what I saw this week, found interesting, hope you think about things in a new way. Hope you ask the right questions.
So if that’s of interest, it’s a weekly post on Medium, HYPERLINK “medium.com/@jeremydpotter” medium.com/@jeremydpotter. And I just like to shake things up and keep everybody thinking, so hopefully that’s what you found Cash.
Cash Butler: Yeah, I am a big fan. In fact, I think Debbie introduced me to your Saturday Cup of Joe and it’s fascinating.
Jared Correia: I don’t drink coffee but I suppose I will subscribe anyway.
That’s going to do it for another episode of The Legal Toolkit on Legal Talk Network. We continue to get better with age, don’t we, like a fine cheese? So I will be back with future shows, with further insights into my soul, the soul of America and the legal market. However, if you are feeling nostalgic for my dulcet tones, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com.
Thanks to my guest host Cash Butler of ClariLegal for appearing on today’s show.
Cash Butler: Okay. Well, I want to thank Debbie Hoffman, Symmetry Blockchain Advisors. And Debbie, do you want to just let people know how to contact you if they have a need?
Debbie Hoffman: Sure Cash. Our website is HYPERLINK “http://www.symmetryadvisors.net” symmetryadvisors.net and I can also be emailed at HYPERLINK “[email protected]” [email protected].
Cash Butler: Great. And Jeremy, thank you for participating in the show.
Jeremy Potter: Thanks so much for having me Cash and great to talk to everyone. And I am at HYPERLINK “medium.com/@jeremydpotter” medium.com/@jeremydpotter. If you want to chat about some of these things, I am always willing. So thank you.
Cash Butler: Well, I think this was just a fantastic discussion. You guys are clearly experts, not only in the legal department area, but as businesspeople. So I really appreciate your participation and the fantastic content that you provided.
And once again, I am Cash Butler. I am the CEO of ClariLegal, HYPERLINK “www.clarilegal.com” www.clarilegal.com and we can also be reached at HYPERLINK “[email protected]” [email protected] via email.
Thanks Jared and thanks Legal Talk Network, it’s been really fun.
Jared Correia: When is it not really? I just want to do one thing before we go, because Jeremy got to talk about his Cup of Joe Newsletter, which you should subscribe to, but I want to give Debbie some airtime to talk about what she is doing with Symmetry Blockchain Advisors, because we really didn’t touch upon that during today’s show.
So Debbie, why don’t you take some time to do that?
Debbie Hoffman: Sure. So blockchain is a fairly newly coming to light type of technology and Symmetry helps companies, number one, learn about what it is, because a lot of companies are still trying to figure out what that really means.
Number two is work on a strategy to determine how to implement it in their current systems.
And number three is actually we have a tech team that will help with that implementation. And really it’s a very interesting type of technology that can help in the operations and it makes things much more seamless. It doesn’t really affect — the consumer may not even know what’s going on. So that’s number one.
And number two is we also work a lot on crypto and initial coin offering endeavors, which is another area, venture capital that has really come to light in the past year.
Jared Correia: Awesome. Thank you Debbie. I understood very little of that, but if you did understand that and you need some help in those areas, you go talk to Debbie. Thank you.
And thanks everybody out there for listening. Now go out there and make all of your dreams come true, well at least the ones that are attainable I suppose, but then those aren’t really dreams, are they? So maybe you can just start by getting an oil change, without going too far over the mileage recommendation or something. Don’t go too crazy. We will talk to you next time.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Legal Toolkit, produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. Join host Jared Correia for his next podcast covering the current business trends for law firms.
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