Alternative Fees Case Study: Flat Monthly Subscription Fee Arrangement’s First Birthday Party

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Innovation is worrisome to outside law firms.  In most cases, at best it is given passing lip service as part of the DNA of any law firm attempting to keep pace with the changing market of working for in house legal departments.  At worst, innovation is the object of secret fear and loathing.  The billable hour is comfortable, predictable, measureable.  The problem is,  your clients don’t care about that.  You are in business for them, not the other way around.

But to all of those in secret fear of innovation and giving alternative fee arrangements a try, take heart, and be not afraid, for I bring good news.  In actual, real-life practice, the flat monthly subscription alternative fee arrangement works, and is popular with in house legal departments looking for greater cost control over outside legal fees.

In the past year a large, multi-state errors and omissions insurer was looking to its outside counsel to offer alternative fee options.  I matched them up with the monthly flat fee subscription arrangement with limits on the duration of the subscription for the matters they assigned us.  At the time we were doing work for this legal department in only one state – Pennsylvania.

The mechanics are straight forward – I conduct a brief review of every new assignment to get a sense for the size and probable case duration, and then provide the in house legal department with a quote for handling the case, expressed in a set payment per month with a maximum duration of months.  Each side can request to renegotiate the case duration if there are major changes in case complexion during the life of the case.  Trial prep, trial, and appeal are separately negotiated if necessary on either an hourly fee or flat fee per day basis with parameters on the number of agreed upon days, at the option of the client .

We are now a year into the program, and  we are now working for this insurer in five states, not one.  They have fed back to us the following about the program:

  • the primary benefit to this insurer’s claims operation is the injection of some cost – certainly into an inherently cost-uncertain endeavor — litigation;
  • cost-efficiency of the subscription arrangement grows with the number of assignments made on that basis;
  • they like the billable hour comparison data we provide so they can compare the relative cost, and benefits received, by the monthly subscription arrangement;
  • they enjoy the ability to adjust the subscription duration should new developments in the case, changes in parties, etc., take place during the life of the case; and
  • they appreciate the fact that we often “no charge” them for any months in which no substantial work takes place due to factors beyond our control, and they are willing to extend the subscription duration for a corresponding length in exchange.

Innovation in outside law firms can be taken beyond merely lip service.  It can be put into practice when it comes to alternative fees, and it can be successful for both the lawyer and the client.

For more information on how to deliver efficient, and cost-effective service to  your in house legal department through the use of flat monthly subscription and other alternative fee arrangements, reach  me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

The Economics of Loyalty: Why In-House Legal Departments Can’t Afford To Be Nice All The Time

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I turned 51 today.  So I consider myself  a Tweener when it comes to the practice of law:  I am not so old yet to be considered one of the Old Guard Traditionalists, but I am too old to be considered New Blood.  This  gives me a unique perspective of both traditional thinking  about the relationships between law firms and in-house legal departments, and the new reality which doesn’t seem as friendly as collegial as the Old Guard Traditionalists remember it.

I confess I lean a little toward the Old Guard Traditionalists, because I can recall a time when in house legal departments for insurance companies and corporate clients, after a law firm delivered them a defense verdict or a well below case authority settlement, would complain that the bills were not sufficiently large in comparison to the result which was obtained.   Admittedly, this is a distant memory, but it is a memory just the same.

But because I  know and recognize this as a distant memory, I recognize the current reality younger lawyers in outside firms face in working for in house legal departments, and in desperately try to retain work from those departments, and to keep those departments satisfied.

It can become circular discussion.  The Old Guard Traditionalists in  outside firms bemoan the lack of loyalty from clients, some of them previously long-standing ones.  For their part, the in house legal departments bemoan the lack of efficiency and responsiveness of their roster of outside law firms in a patently changing marketplace.  The New Blood wonders which came first in this dialogue, the chicken or the egg?

My perspective as a Tweener is that the latter question doesn’t matter, and the former confidence of the Old Guard Traditionalists in the virtue of their position  about the decline in client loyalty is just as irrelevant.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  The Client.

In house legal departments have always had purchasing power.  They have in the distant past simply not used this lever, a lever they have had all along.  They could afford the luxury of loyalty.  Today, however, in the pressure of the marketplace from both without and within, General Counsel’s offices simply cannot afford to ignore efficiency, responsiveness, and cost – effectiveness.

They will always like you if you have had a good relationship with them.  That is not the question any longer.  The question is can they afford to do business with you?  Do you provide them value over and above the value they give to you in the form of fees?  Are you responsive to requests for alternative fee arrangements, volume discounts, and adherence to budgets and litigation management plans?  Do you give them a straight line plan to their result, or are you simply going to follow a litigation script by rote?

I have spent more than 25 years in an outside law firm, so what I am about to say is at most an educated guess.  I would wager that if in house legal departments could , they would simply operate on the principle of loyalty also.  After all, it is easier for them too, to work with lawyers they have used for a long time, and whom they like.  But they can no longer afford to measure suitability and to  do things that way, and neither can the outside law firms who work for them.  Efficiency and value must be delivered.  Those benchmarks will be rewarded with client loyalty.  Length of service is no longer the metric.

Those are the Economics of Loyalty in today’s legal marketplace.

For more information on how to deliver efficient, and cost-effective service to  your in house legal department, reach  me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

Subscription Flat – Fee Efficiency Comes to Insurance Litigation and Non-Litigation Matters

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“Adapt or die….”

Billy Beane, Moneyball

As insurance company legal departments continue to feel organizational pressure to improve efficiencies in the  engagement of outside law firms, many outside firms lag behind in adapting products and services to meet this need.  Those firms who have, however, risen to meet the demands of the market continue to innovate.  Subscription fee arrangements are one such innovation.  Under these arrangements, in which clients pay outside firms an monthly flat fee  subscription  for legal services, provide much – wanted control over expense, and help insurers’ legal departments convert variable costs into fixed ones.

We have discussed a broad range of alternative fee innovations in these pages many times in the past.  Subscription fee arrangements represent a narrow but powerful segment of this range.

Rather than pay outside firms by the hour, a referred matter, litigated or not, is quoted by the outside firm at a flat monthly price.  Assignments with a shorter life span of 60 days are simply quoted on a flat rate fee basis.  Most litigated matters are quoted with a cap on the number of months the subscription fee is to be paid.  Both the lawyer and client agree, however, to be open to reasonable adjustments  of the length of subscription, especially in cases of unforeseen circumstances, delays, as well as events which may shorten the life of the assignment.  Trial preparation and trial are billed separately, either on an hourly basis, or an after-negotiated flat rate per day quote.

For comparison purposes, our firm provides clients with a statement of what a subscription fee matter would have cost if it were billed hourly.  This data is used not only to demonstrate extra value provided to the client, but to make adjustments in the monthly subscription fee, if necessary, in similar future assignments to make sure the client is satisfied with the arrangement.

The subscription fee arrangement is also scalable.   Assignments can be negotiated in blocks for a single subscription fee, for example, and volume subscription discounts can also be offered and agreed upon.

Subscription flat fee arrangements are win-win for both legal department and outside law firms.  Firms are encouraged to handle matters quickly and efficiently, and insurance company legal departments can migrate a large portion of outside legal expense to a fixed cost as opposed to a highly variable one.

Reach  me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800 for more information on how the use of flat fee subscription agreements in insurance litigation and non litigation matters can create efficiencies for your legal department.

Outside Counsel Re-Packaged and Re-Focused: Four Pillars

PILLARS

If your outside counsel has not worked on re-purposing how their services  are delivered to suit your needs, you are entitled to ask why, and to ask them to get to work on doing so.  In-house legal departments in the current market are entitled to value in at least four key areas:

1.  Monthly Access to Counsel at No Cost For Questions on Miscellaneous or on-Assigned Matters – My clients each have several hours per month of free phone consultation time, analysis, or research on any subjects of their choosing.   A good client who invests their money in you to represent them in paid matters is entitled to be able to pick up the phone or send an email with a random or miscellaneous question without worrying about the meter running.  It is a way to provide value to good clients, and a way to encourage them to reach out and stay in touch to take advantage of the benefit.

2.   No-Cost Quarterly  At-Client “Office Hours” – This is an extension of the no-cost consultation service.  My clients each get eight hours per quarter of my spending time in their offices, where I can assist and consult on matters of importance, provide updates or continuing education on topics of interest, or to listen and learn about the legal department’s or company’s goals and objectives, and to discuss how we might assist the client in achieving those goals.  It is a great way to learn more about a client’s DNA and institutional culture, so that legal services can be aligned with those things.

3.   Alternative Fee Options, And The Willingness To Negotiate Any Fee, Any Time – I have posted about the complex subject of alternative legal fees many times, and have a page dedicated to describing many popular alternative fee options.  Clients like the ability as they assign matters to outside counsel to toggle back and forth between traditional hourly rate arrangements and alternative fee proposals based on the nature of the matter assigned.  The only real rule here is absolute flexibility.  The client should be given the option of deciding which fee approach they feel is best for them at the outset of assigning a matter.

Outside counsel  should be open always to adjustments in the fees as a case or matter proceeds.  Circumstances change, cases can take unexpected twists and turns, and an in – house legal department should never, never feel locked into an unfavorable fee agreement after circumstances material change.  Setting legal fees is NOT an adversarial process between outside counsel and general counsel;  rather, it is a collaborative one.

4.   Re-Thinking Hourly Fee Engagements To Provide More Value – Some clients still prefer engaging outside counsel by way of a traditional hourly fee deal.  At the same time, however, in addition to the extras discussed above, they are also looking for value from outside counsel even under these engagements.  We have re-packaged our hourly fee engagements with legal departments, and re-thought how they should operate.

Our clients have begun to regularly see “No Charge” line items in their invoices.  Under our re-vamped hourly rate system, clients are not charged for routine letters and phone calls, and  charged only for substantive work which moves a matter forward.  In that way, a client feels like it is paying only for value received, not merely a ticking clock.

All of these pillars serve the same goals:  First, these features encourage clients to reach out to outside counsel on non-assigned matters, and feel like they are partnering together to serve the common goal – the client’s interests, without necessarily worrying about cost.  Second, these features provide value to clients on the matters which are formally assigned to outside counsel.

To put these advantages to work for your in-house legal department or office of general counsel, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

 

Are You Getting Enough Extras From Your Outside Counsel?

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For insurance company legal departments, the retention of outside counsel is now done very much in a buyer’s market, perhaps more so than any time in history, and  certainly more than any other time in the twenty five years I have practiced law.  Tasked by their management teams with delivering better results faster and for less, legal departments have become discerning and discriminating buyers.

Good outside law firms worthy of hiring do not rage against this development — they accept and embrace it, and craft what they offer to fit the needs of the clients they want to continue to serve. If your outside lawyers aren’t offering you the following services regularly, you are probably not taking advantage of the enormous buying power you now enjoy.  This buying power entitles you to things like:

  • regular courtesy calls from outside counsel to make sure the service they are delivering meets with your expectations of that service, including the billing process;
  • seamless access to your outside counsel via phone, email, text messaging so that you do not have to wait either to ask a question or make an assignment;
  • several hours per week of no-charge access and client support for quick legal questions, even a request for a minor bit of research or document review (any outside lawyer who does not recognize that this is the least he or she can do for a good client does not appreciate the value of your business).
  • regular offers to provide no-cost continuing education your legal departments and claims staff, either via in person lunch and learns, or  via webinar, whichever you, not they, prefer.
  • regular no-cost updates on significant legal rulings and industry developments, so that you can 1.) stay abreast of the legal landscape at no cost to you; and 2.)  ensure that your outside counsel is current as to the same landscape; and
  • regular offers to discuss and collaborate on alternative billing programs, so that legal departments can ensure they are getting outside counsel legal services in the most efficient manner possible.
  • ‘NO-CHARGE” invoice entries for  minor phone calls and emails on simple questions or requests –  your outside lawyers should encourage you to contact them, not discourage you.

As we said above, it is a buyers’ market for in-house legal departments.  Many outside firms who have enjoyed the comfort of the status quo for decades have been caught unaware, and have not responded to legal climate change .  But there are good outside law firms who are none too aware of the sea change in the marketplace, and who are crafting their representation to recognize that fact by providing no-cost extras to their clients.

For more information on providing your legal department the benefits of  extra services and client support at no additional cost , reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

 

Alternative Fee Spotlight: The Outside General Counsel Arrangement

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In the rapidly changing environment of the delivery of legal services to clients, including insurers, third party outside general counsel providers have begun to offer as-needed office of general counsel staffing to insurers and other businesses.  Insurers and businesses, however, can find the same benefit in the outside law firms they have been dealing with for years.  There is a way to have the best of both worlds.

The arrangements vary widely, from counsel actually occupying the physical space of the client on a full or part time basis, to a looser arrangement with outside counsel staying at her outside firm.  The arrangement offers the flexibility legal departments now require to meet their obligations as efficiently as possible.  The General Counsels’ offices get the benefit of the knowledge and experience of an outside lawyer but at a far greater control over the cost of such services.

Outside General Counsel arrangements generally involve fixed fees for a set amount of time based upon how much of the outside counsel’s workweek the insurer will utilize.  The outside lawyer’s time is utilized as the legal department sees fit.  In practice, it oftentimes involves outside counsel providing coverage opinions, and coverage and bad faith litigation support and representation , but the relationship can expand to such diverse matters as regulatory compliance, claims handling, and fraud investigation.   The duration of the arrangements can be short term, long term, month to month, or ad hoc — again, the beauty of the arrangement lies in its inherent flexibility.

The arrangement provides the additional benefit of outside counsel getting to know the procedures and operations of the legal department  to which she is deployed from a much closer vantage point than she would otherwise have.  Outside counsel even get a sense of the business and mission goals of the both the insurer and in-house legal department — benefits which can and will extend far beyond the duration of the outside general counsel arrangement.

For insurers with legal departments looking to stay flexible and to retain cost controls over the use of outside expertise, the outside general counsel option could be the puzzle piece needed to control legal spending, and ensure access to outside expertise and jurisdictional familiarity.

For more information on providing your legal department the benefits of an outside general counsel arrangement on shorter or longer term bases , reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

Alternative Fee Spotlight: Fixed Fee Coverage Opinions and Bad Faith Claims Audits

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Within legal departments today, the most common barriers to obtaining knowledgeable outside counsel for non-litigated matters are cost and uncertainty.   Outside counsel is seen nowdays as an expense which must be scrutinized, limited and reduced.  But there are ways to enjoy the benefit of the independent, objective opinion of outside counsel without worrying that doing so is an unnecessary extravagance, or yet another trip down the black hole of a running meter.

The truth is that most non-litigated matters handled for insurance company legal departments don’t need to be handled  via hourly rate.  Costing such projects is easy and predictable.  And the legal marketplace no longer operates under a single, monolithic pricing model.  Good lawyers are available for reasonable, flexible, affordable fees.

Coverage opinions and claims file audits can be performed by experienced outside counsel via fixed fee, quoted arrangements.  A legal department can get the benefit of a coverage opinion or claims file review for a low, fixed sum, quoted after only a brief review of the scope of the matter.  This small investment in an outside opinion can save an insurer many multiples of the fixed fee cost in coverage or extra-contractual exposure later on.    There are even more savings available with volume discounts or “block” fee quoting for multiple non-litigated  matters.  The options are virtually endless.

Traditionally, the return on investment which a coverage opinion or claims file audit brought was not sufficiently predictable:  the hourly rate arrangement made the initial investment in an outside opinion unclear, and therefore made the benefit hard to measure.  Under a fixed-fee arrangement, six and seven figure exposures can be identified and prevented with small four figure investments.

For more information on providing your legal department the large investment return on fixed fee coverage opinions and claims file audits, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

Legal Project Management Made Simple

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LPM sounds intimidating.   Anything which has to be shortened by using initials has to be, right?  Not to worry.  Legal departments don’t want to be bogged down in complicated legal project management processes any more than outside lawyers do.  They are only interested in legal project management to the extent it gets them to their goal:  engagements with outside lawyers who will do what they say they are going to do, on budget, and on time.

Legal Project Management can be thought of as the GPS of an engagement of outside counsel.   Every trip starts with an intended route, and a GPS does nothing more than tell you where you are in relation to that route.  It keeps you on track.  LPM=GPS.

The biggest obstacle to beginning a foray into LPM is what I call the intimidation of complexity.  Where do I start?  What methods should I use?  Will I need software?    Why can’t I just practice law?    The trouble, however, is that legal departments do not exist for the purpose of allowing outside law firms to practice law;  they exist for the purpose of solving the company’s headaches from within,  quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.  Outside lawyers will only be engaged if they help solve a problem in alignment with those goals.

Elaborate software and project diagramming are unnecessary to both the process and a happy client.   There are but three secrets to implementing LPM for outside lawyers and law firms:  1.) start somewhere; 2.) keep going; and 3.) the simpler the better.   A good outside lawyer with sufficient experience can sketch a project management outline for an assigned matter on the back of an envelope in less than five minutes.

An LPM Example

Here is an templated example of a project management outline I sketched out for a recent assignment from one of the insurance companies I represent in a relatively small, straightforward matter. Complicated, it is not:

Timeline

Pleadings Closed      4/1/2016

Written Discovery Complete     12/31/2016

Depositions Complete      1/31/2017

Dispositive Motions Filed         3/15/2017

Mediation Completed     4/30/2017

Settle or Try Decision      5/31/2017

Trial           8/31/2017

 

The budget portion of the legal project management sketch is hardly more complicated:

Budget

Investigation          Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Pleadings        Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Discovery        Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Dispositive Motions     Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Expert Workup    Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Mediation/ Negotiation     Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Total         Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Trial Preparation        Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Trial          Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

Total         Planned:  $ X            Actual:  $ Y

The plan is kept electronically in the matter (hard copy is fine too for the traditionalists), checked at regular intervals, updated, and the updates fed back to the client, so the client can see whether the matter is on course as planned, or whether adjustments need to be made, either to the plan itself, or to the execution of the plan.

A legal project management plan is only as good as the effort put into it up front, however.  There must be agreement and buy in up front from the client, and major deviations in the plan must be explained to the client’s satisfaction.  Unforseen developments will be encountered, and adjustments to the plan should be made where warranted.

LPM is no more than a good outside lawyer road-mapping a matter for his or her legal department client.  It gives the client the data it needs to exercise oversight and cost control in increasingly more demanding and less forgiving environments.  LPM=GPS.

For more information on how to effectively use LPM, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

 

Alternative Fee Spotlight: The Simplicity Of Fee Caps

“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy.”
Isaac Newton

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Above all things, clients do not want headaches.  They certainly don’t want headaches from their outside lawyers.  After all, outside lawyers are supposed to fix headaches, not cause them.  So amid an increasingly roiling sea of alternative fee arrangements, the simplest alternatives may stand out as the most appealing to legal departments who engage outside counsel for litigated and non-litigated matters.

And, believe it or not, some legal departments are reticent to  dispense with the hourly fee altogether, fearing that they may well be trading one gamble with outside counsel  for another:  a flat fee, for example, can under the right circumstances be a worse deal for a client than a high hourly rate, i.e., the bad faith or coverage case that is dismissed early, or settled within 60 days.

Enter the hourly fee with caps concept, an arrangement which not only provides simplicity, but allows legal departments to have their cake and eat it too.  Under the arrangement, outside counsel is engaged under a traditional hourly arrangement, but a cap is agreed to and put into place.  The cap can either be a single cap for the entire engagement, or it can be broken down into separate caps  for each phase of a case.  Caps ensure that the legal department has cost control over the matters it refers out to counsel.  It provides some muscle to legal project management, and not merely lip service.

If a legal department sends out a matter which outside counsel gets dismissed at the pleading stage, or resolves within a couple of months, the client gets the benefit of that speed, efficiency, and reduced expense — it pays only the hourly fee for the minimal amount of work.  At the same time, should a matter take a more protracted course, the client still has the cost control and budget certainty which either an overall fee cap, or phased fee caps,  provide.

One caveat:  as with all alternative fee arrangements, both the legal department and outside counsel must have a level of trust and goodwill which allows for adjustment and renegotiation of the fee mid-course, should their be a sufficiently large and unforeseen change in circumstances to warrant doing so.  The adjustments, however, can only be made if the client is agreeable to doing so, and should be the rare exception to the arrangement, rather than the rule.

For more information on how to put fee caps to work for your legal department to reduce costs and fine tune legal project management budgeting, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

 

 

 

Alternative Fee Spotlight: Allowing Clients To Adjust The Fee For Value Perceived

It is a dangerous thing for a lawyer to put his fate, even partially, in the hands of his client – the lawyer is used to having it the other way around.  For centuries, lawyers have always set their value, and disclaimed the risk of a bad result, placing it squarely on the shoulders of their customers.  (I do not chose and use the word “customers” lightly.  Clients, especially legal departments,  are in this day and age customers in the truest sense of the word:  discerning buyers with pricing power.  Those lawyers who fail to approach clients as customers risk being left behind.)

The billable hour arrangement swims hard against this tide of modern reality, and is faltering against the strength of the current.  Hourly rate engagements seek to dictate value to the customer in a top-down manner, and in  an age when customers have the capability and desire to assess and decide value for themselves, and use that data to hire outside law firms.

As lawyers read this, especially older ones, they are likely to feel a tightness in their throats and to see their own knuckles whitening.  The thought of sending a bill out to a client and giving the client the power of even partial veto over that bill is to them rather like paying the cable TV  company based on whether the viewer liked what she watched, and how much she liked it.  Preposterous, right?

Wrong.  They day has arrived when lawyers, including old ones and very good ones, must face the reality that clients want and expect to have far greater influence on how they compensate their outside law firms, and how that compensation should be linked to something other than merely the time expended.

There are at least two reasons to do so.  First, legal departments are already  exercising such control, with auditing departments and third party auditing vendors poring over and oftentimes unilaterally adjusting invoices.  And second, those lawyers not willing to cede this power to their customers are going to be either passed over on the legal departments panel lists, are removed from the lists altogether.  Lawyers have no choice; and to believe they do have a choice is to risk extinction.

The Nuts And Bolts of Client Value Adjustments

There are a number a ways to place greater value control in the hands of the legal departments who engage outside counsel.  The two most prominent ones at this stage of the game, however, are holdbacks, and value adjustments.

Under the holdback system, a percentage (usually in the range of 10%-25% or 30%) of the total fee paid to the outside firm , whether via hourly arrangement or an alternative, is held back until either a specific case goal is reached, or the conclusion of the matter.  The client then has the authority to pay some, all, or none of the holdback to the outside law firm, based on the value the client believes it received.

The value adjustment method is similar, but not identical, to the holdback method.  Under the value adjustment approach, clients are given authority over any invoice to adjust an invoice downward or upward by an agreed upon percentage (again usually 10%-25% or 30%) based on the value it feels it received  during the period covered by the invoice.

Why Give A Client So Much Pricing Power?

Outside law firms who have been compensated for decades by the billable hour simply don’t have their interests sufficiently aligned with those of their clients.  Where the client wants fast, efficient and inexpensive, the outside law firm compensated hourly has interests which, while not diametrically opposed to speed, efficiency, and cost-consciousness, are sufficiently opposed to those goals to  have led legal departments to question the arrangement, and to move toward something better.

Holdbacks and client value adjustments allow lawyers and clients to realign their interests in the same general direction, to jointly shoulder the risks of poor performance and bad results, and to restore the feeling that the legal department and the outside lawyer are in the same boat, and rowing in the same direction.

 

 

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