In-house group to pool best practices

An advocacy group for in-house counsel is holding a contest in the hope of getting its members to pool their best practices for reducing costs, promoting efficiency and increasing predictability of claims and results.

The Association of Corporate Counsel, which advocates for more than 29,000 in-house attorneys across the globe, is seeking nominations for its “Value Champions” award program.

The program is an offshoot of a larger initiative, the ACC Value Challenge, which was implemented in 2008 to educate attorneys on better project management practices and to improve relationships between in-house counsel, law firms and corporate clients.

“Over the years, ACC has heard a number of great stories, and as we collected them, we wanted to show the best of the best,” said Veta Richardson, the Washington, D.C.-based president and CEO of the group.

For example, she said, the group is looking for ways to improve communication between in-house counsel and outside firms, to minimize charges for redundant information.

Flat-rate or fixed-fee billing is also becoming increasingly popular, Richardson said.

“It moves off traditional billing rates,” she said. “And, because it’s more predictable, clients aren’t surprised by high costs.”

Emmett McGee, who is a partner at Jackson Lewis LLP’s Baltimore office, has found that flat-rate billing garners strong client loyalty. In fact, he credits it as a main reason that the firm’s Baltimore office, which opened in January 2010, has doubled in size from nine to 18 lawyers.

Clients “find the certainty to be very comforting,” McGee said, and “it’s very attractive to partners that we have the continued business.”

Richardson said the plan behind the contest is not just to give out awards, but to have ACC members study and emulate the best practices.

“We hope to create a ripple effect in the profession,” she said.

H. Ward Classen, a past president of ACC’s Baltimore chapter, agrees that it is critical for best value practices to be as widespread as possible.

“The legal world is in transition,” Classen said. “The costs can get very high and we need to do what we can to get value for our money.”

Specifically in the Baltimore region, Classen, who is the deputy general counsel at Computer Sciences Corp. in Hanover, has seen attorneys reduce overhead costs by moving into smaller offices and using online educational tools.

“We just have to get better,” he said.