Simple miscommunications could permanently sully otherwise friendly and fruitful relationships between law firms and in-house legal departments, speakers at the INTA Annual Meeting in Washington DC told delegates today, May 3.
Azhar Sadique, partner at Keltie in London, and Kara Zioba, global intellectual property manager at the Hershey Company in Colorado, kicked off their session called ‘The Art of Communication and Transparency’ with a mock phone call to show how such a miscommunication could happen.
Zioba told Sadique that her budget was $10,000, but he heard $110,000.
“The problem is that once that miscommunication infiltrates the system, it’s hard to get back,” Sadique told the audience, noting that the first interaction between a law firm and client should be in writing and be a lot clearer and transparent than what he and Zioba acted out.
The pair went on to discuss some best practices for communication between law firms and their trademark clients to help avoid similar situations.
Zioba said it was important to her and her company to have efficient external partners. “They need to be responsive and be good email communicators,” she said. “It helps when counsel put their thoughts into bullet points and detailed summaries at the top of the email.”
“My company has such a high volume of iconic brands across the globe that we need efficient counsel,” she added.
External counsel should also endeavour to fully understand their clients’ businesses, noted Zioba. She pointed out that the better lawyers know the ins and outs of the business, the more they can contribute to said business’s strategy.
“At that point, they become true business partners,” she said.
Sadique added that this enhanced level of communication could be more easily obtained since the pandemic, noting that private practice and in-house counsel were far more accustomed to speaking over video conferencing platforms than before COVID.
Law firm lawyers should also be more up front about cost, said the speakers.
Zioba noted that law firms should give more work to their trademark administrators, rather than have partners do it. Funnelling more work to these professionals would help them develop professionally, she reasoned, while decreasing prices.
“When it’s a simpler task like renewing a contract, it’s difficult to justify that work being done by partners,” she said.
She added that it would do law firms well to embrace different kinds of cost structures too, such as fixed fee or hybrid models.
“It’s important for firms to offer their clients creative cost structures and understand the cost pressures they face,” she said.
The INTA Annual Meeting is being held this week at the Walter E Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.
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