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It was only a simple table. One of its rusted metal legs was too short, so it rested on a well-worn matchbook cover. The top was chipped Formica, but it was dressed up with a plastic barrel filled with pickles floating in brine and a basket of fresh-baked bread. This was the front table at my grandfather’s delicatessen, a place where businessmen would gather for lunch and discuss important issues. But for me, it was much more. It was a college of customer service. As a boy, I was privileged to get my business education from a man who escaped from Latvia as a child and who never went to college. I called him “Papa,” and, come to think of it, everyone else did too. Papa passed away before I could apply his teachings to the practice of law, but I think he would have approved. So when asked to write about the partnership between outside and in-house counsel, I thought a good place to start would be with some of the things Papa taught me. They’re as applicable today to general counsel as they were back then at Papa’s deli. � The Customer Is Right: Papa never argued with a customer. Even when he knew a customer was wrong, Papa always would apologize and give the customer a little something extra. When I asked him why he did so, he told me, “The customer is always right.” Too often, lawyers forget that we are in the customer service business. Customer care is not taught in law school. We’re outside counsel for general counsel. GCs have the right to expect to be treated like customers. After all, the companies that need outside counsel pay the bills. Good client service means treating the company like you would want to be treated if you were in the same position. Clients facing legal problems rely on the sound judgment of outside counsel to help resolve those problems as inexpensively and swiftly as possible. Therefore, when a client has something to say about representation, outside counsel should not only listen but also promptly respond. � Count Change: Papa believed that the cash register was like a Steinway piano: The noise that it made when you pressed the keys was sweet music to his ears. The first lesson that he taught me was to count change for the customer. Papa reasoned that the customer needed to know that he was paying the right price before he left the restaurant. Companies are entitled to know what legal services will cost them, and they are entitled to a fair and frank accounting of the charges for legal services on a regular basis. The GC should expect to be able to reconcile a bill for legal services with the value of those services performed for the relevant period without using a thesaurus. � Fresh Bread: Papa insisted on giving customers fresh-baked bread. Papa explained that a customer needed to feel like the bread was baked for the customer rather than sitting on the shelf waiting for someone else to buy it. GCs should expect that outside counsel will perform legal services pertinent to the engagement rather than using forms or briefs the outside counsel used for another client’s representation. Some lawyers will take forms created from another business engagement, change the names and dates, and bill as if they had created the document specifically for the client. GCs should check for telltale signs in places such as document footers that often indicate the original purpose for the document and when it was created. THE RIGHT WAY � No Mustard: Papa used to say that the customer should put mustard on at the table because good meat does not need mustard. Restaurants that serve the customer poor-quality meat put mustard on for the customer so that he can’t tell what he’s getting. Most firms have sophisticated graphics departments capable of generating multicolored presentation binders. In my opinion, those binders are kind of like mustard. All the fancy packaging in the world cannot and should not be a substitute for critical thinking. This “mustard” disguises the fact that some lawyers will not take a position one way or the other on legal questions presented to them by GCs and companies. Clients should expect outside counsel to get to the meat of the matter and to answer tough legal questions. � Don’t Microwave: Papa never owned a microwave. He reasoned that, since he could not understand how a microwave worked, it might not be a good thing. Hot sandwiches were always steamed. It takes longer, but it’s the right way to prepare them. Good delicatessens are hard to find today because we live in a “microwave” world. We want everything delivered faster, and we seem to be willing to sacrifice quality to have it that way. But fast may not always be right, and it is more important to be correct about the analysis of complicated legal issues than to be first to finish. GCs should ask questions about conclusions to complicated legal issues that are delivered so quickly that an opportunity for comprehensive review seems impossible. � Complain Before You Eat: Papa used to visit each customer’s table. Once an elderly woman complained to him that her sandwich was cold. Papa looked down at her empty plate and said, “Why didn’t you tell me before you ate it so that I could do something about it?” Some clients do not complain about any aspect of an engagement until it is concluded and outside counsel renders a final bill. To be fair to outside counsel, GCs should complain while outside counsel still has an opportunity to do something about the complaint. � Don’t Go Away Hungry: When Papa would encounter men who were down and out panhandling on the street, he would invite them into our delicatessen, sit them down at a table and serve them a hot meal. Once I asked him why he did not make those panhandlers eat in the kitchen. He scolded me, and he told me that every man deserves a little dignity, particularly when he is down and out. Some customers did not understand why Papa waited on the destitute. But good customers knew that it spoke volumes about Papa’s character, and they were encouraged to trade with him. In the same way, GCs should consider the character of their outside counsel. A commitment to pro bono work and community service speaks volumes about the character of a firm, and clients should seek to do business with those firms that are committed to pro bono work and community service. I hope you liked the points I made here. As Papa used to say, “If you enjoyed it, tell all your friends. If not, keep quiet.” Steven M. Zager is a partner in Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in Houston.

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