The relationship between in-house counsel and outside litigation counsel has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Technology and the Internet have been the driving forces for many of the changes.
Technology growth has forced outside litigation counsel into a quasi-technology consultant role in the way they deal with e-discovery and case management. Technology has made litigation more complex as the underlying subject matter of cases has become more complex. The availability of information via the Internet has made in-house counsel a more savvy shopper and a better informed manager. Technology has surely changed the way outside litigation counsel tries cases and has forced trial counsel to be trial-technology savvy. There are many more examples of how the fast flow of information is altering the balance of power between in-house and outside counsel, but you get the idea. Reflecting these changing times, the 25-point list below offers useful best-practices that in-house counsel should be demanding from outside litigation counsel.
- Alternative fee arrangements. At A2L, we have all but left the billable hour behind as a measurement of delivering value—mostly because it does not measure value at all. In July of 2013, we wrote about the 12 different alternative fee arrangements we use at A2L as a guide for anyone selling professional services. Not all clients want AFAs but they probably should. There's no better way to align the value of services delivered to the size of the problem solved.
- Mock trials. As we wrote in 7 Reasons In-House Counsel Should Want a Mock Trial, there are so many good reasons to conduct a mock trial and almost no reason, except for budget, not to. Dollar for dollar, I think a mock trial is the single best investment in-house counsel can make in trying to win a case. Since outside counsel may be hesitant to request budget for it, it may very well be up to in-house counsel to recommend it.
- Story development. Although many great trial attorneys used the technique 20 years ago, the science of why storytelling helps persuade was not fully understood. Today, it is recognized as essential for trial. See, Storytelling Proven to be Scientifically More Persuasive. All trial counsel should be able to articulate a clear story well before trial that succinctly explains the case and why your side should win. See also, 14 Differences Between a Theme and a Story in Litigation and 5 Essential Elements of Storytelling and Persuasion.
- A story that people care about. Not just any story will do. Trial counsel must develop a compelling story that both judge and jury will care about. See:
- Open practice. In addition to a mock trial, good trial counsel will want to schedule structured practice sessions and invite in-house counsel to attend. See 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation and Practice is a Crucial Piece of the Storytelling Puzzle.
- Accept coaching. In this era where the highest profile litigators only go to trial rarely, using a coach, usually in the form of a litigation consultant is a best-practice. These professionals spend most of their time preparing for trial and in the courtroom, perhaps working on dozens of trials per year. See, Accepting Litigation Consulting is the New Hurdle for Litigators and Working in Parallel vs. Series with Trial Presentation Consultants.
- Abandon the last-minute when it comes to trial. The era of the litigator who swoops in at the last minute and tries a case, occasionally needing to be reminded of the client's name, is largely over. In-house counsel must be prepared to communicate the expectation that a case should be trial ready well before trial. See, The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation.
- Use technology well. Litigators should be so well-practiced in their use of trial technology that it should look seamless. Missteps in the use of technology destroy credibility, and they must be anticipated and avoided. See:
- Use trial technicians well. There may come a time when trial counsel controls their presentation just as on-air meteorologists do with a simple clicker, but we're not there yet. Courtroom presentations are dynamic and unpredictable. If trial counsel is to look like a professional, they must learn how to work with a trial technician well. See:
- No more surprises. I used to have a competitor that would low-ball every bid, bill 3x at trial and then write down their invoice by 10% when a post-trial dispute arose over the invoice. Once one of the top brands in the industry, they now lay in shambles, not surprisingly. We have always lived by a no-surprises model when it comes to pricing and billing. It is reasonable to insist on the same from outside counsel and legal consultants like us. See, 17 Tips for Great Preferred Vendor Programs.
- Post-trial lessons-learned sessions. Elite organizations spend lots of time planning and lots of time debriefing after the mission. Litigation should be no different. See, 9 Questions to Ask in Your Litigation Postmortem or Debrief.
- Be upfront about trial costs. To be fair, I've said this more than one way already, but it is worth emphasizing. If your vendor or outside counsel can't tell you what it is going to cost, how much experience do they really have? Very often, it is the job of in-house counsel to make outside counsel comfortable spending what is needed to win. Trust me, they're often afraid to ask. See, Learn How to Get Value in The New Normal Legal Economy.
- Proof they are staying current. How do you know your outside counsel is staying current with modern best-practices? If they are trying cases just like they did 20 years ago, they are going to see diminishing returns. Insist on proof that they are improving their game outside of simple CLEs and the like. See, 19 Ways in Which the World Has Changed Since 1995.
- Research your judge. No longer do we have to rely on vague tips from local counsel. Outside counsel should understand what really makes a judge tick and exploit that knowledge. Ask them what they know and push them to learn more. See, 21 Ingenious Ways to Research Your Judge.
- Anticipate non-legal implications. For litigators to really be trusted advisers, they need to demonstrate that they understand that things said in a courtroom can have a profound implication for the company, from reputation to stock price. Some day, cameras will be allowed in all courtrooms, and this will only accelerate the need to take a more global view of the client. Make sure your outside litigators understand the big picture. See, 10 Web Videos Our Jury Consultants Say All Litigators Must See.
- Really prepare the witnesses. Whether expert or fact witnesses, all witnesses should be professionally prepared. There is simply too much riding on their testimony. Litigation consultants and jury consultants may be better positioned to do this than lawyers at the firm. See:
- Work well with others. Litigators must also be leaders, and they must set an example for how to behave. They are representatives of the company and must remember this whether in an elevator, at a restaurant or on a subway. See, 5 Tips for Working Well As a Joint Defense Team, 10 Signs the Pressure is Getting to You and What to Do About It, Download: Leadership for Lawyers.
- Don't push boundaries. Whether ethical, legal or business boundaries, ask your outside counsel not to get too close to any boundary. In recent years we have seen such decisions bring down major law firms, and you don't want a scandal to land on your doorstep.
- Don't say "my client." Modern litigators should know how to personalize the company and tell the company story in the best way possible. See, 7 Things You Never Want to Say in Court.
- Don't melt down. I've seen plenty of partners melt down at trial, and I have seen plenty of partners sleep soundly on the eve of trial. A meltdown is usually a sign of poor preparation, and it is most certainly the role of in-house counsel to ensure that preparation is done early and done well. See, When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety and 5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Trial Team (and What to Do About It).
- No condescension about what they know. Of course trial counsel knows more about trying a case than in-house counsel. If they didn't, you wouldn't need them. However, the best outside litigation counsel include in-house counsel in the process of trial preparation and never talk down to the client.
- Body language and appearance. Outside trial counsel should understand the impact of body language and how best to appear in the courtroom. Even tie color makes a difference. See, 7 Videos About Body Language Our Litigation Consultants Recommend and Litigation Graphics, Psychology and Color Meaning.
- Use litigation graphics well. Yes, we have written the book on this topic, and A2L was once again just voted #1 demonstrative evidence consultants. This litigator-authored article describes the state-of-the-art thinking surrounding litigation graphics: How I Used Litigation Graphics as a Litigator and How You Could Too.
- Likability. In the courtroom, it matters a great deal that people like you. Maker sure that your outside counsel knows how to appeal to judge and jury. See, Like It or Not: Likeability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom and 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You.
- Subscribe to this blog. Really, it may be the easiest (and certainly the cheapest) way to know that your trial counsel is staying current with best practices. Here's a free subscription that you can share.
In-house counsel, I can tell you that based on hundreds of conversations I have had over the years, outside litigation counsel is scared to make you unhappy. This means they hesitate to ask for budget for things that will help win the case. Part of your role has to be to insist on supurb trial preparation as you have the most riding on the outcome. Help guide outside counsel, and make them comfortable asking for the tools they need to win. You'll win more cases if you do.