Kristin M. Coleman, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary of the Brunswick Corporation.
Kristin M. Coleman, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary of the Brunswick Corporation. ()

Brunswick Corp. general counsel Kristin Coleman has a customized playbook for each type of legal matter the $3.9 billion company hands off to outside counsel.

The 15,700-employee recreation-products manufacturer competes in the marine, fitness, bowling and billiards industries. Popular brands include Sea Ray boats and Life Fitness exercise equipment. It also operates bowling alleys. That portfolio puts litigation, intellectual property, commercial contracts and labor and employment, including for some union workers, under Coleman’s list of responsibilities.The company strives to keep complex business-critical work either entirely in-house or at least to lead it internally, said Coleman, who also serves as vice president and corporate secretary. But Brunswick seeks an assist from all kinds of law firms under a variety of billing and work arrangements when it needs special expertise, or for high-volume work including commercial contracts.

“Once we identify our need, we’re looking for the right service at the right price,” Coleman said. “We’ve found a variety of different options for different problems.” Last year, 10 firms collected about 70 percent of the company’s outside-counsel spending.

Brunswick’s national litigation program with K&L Gates is a key part of the outside-counsel plan. The program ­started in 2008 as a flat-fee arrangement for a bucket of work, but Brunswick quickly found that model too simplistic, Coleman said.

The company now has a more flexible arrangement with K&L Gates, wherein the fee changes based on volume and other factors.

David Rammelt, a Chicago K&L commercial-disputes partner who leads the firm’s relationship with Brunswick, said the company makes sure its in-house team and outside counsel are satisfied with the arrangements.

“They’ve achieved a delicate balance of cutting legal costs and, at the same time, getting excellent legal services because they’ve been able to price the work in a way that makes it attractive for our law firm,” Rammelt said.

Another move to break outside legal work into “bite-sized pieces” shifted labor and employment matters from New York to regional firms, including Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage.

The company sends some benefits work to a lawyer at Axiom Global Inc., known for serving corporate clients with its nontraditional structure. Brunswick gets a reduced rate that adjusts based on volume, she said.

Although the legal department doesn’t use requests for proposals to find outside lawyers, it vigorously analyzes spending. A tracking system measures the weighted average billable rate year over year, for instance. About a quarter of outside billings involve alternative fees.

“The most important thing with outside-counsel management is not whether you have an alternative fee arrangement or traditional fee arrangement. It is whether your team is focused on managing outside counsel,” Coleman said.

COMPANY BIO

Name of company: Brunswick Corp.
Headquarters: Lake Forest, Ill.
Industry: Recreation products and servicesNo. of lawyers in Chicago area: 7
No. of U.S. lawyers outside Chicago : 5
No. of lawyers outside U.S.: 0
General counsel: Kristin Coleman

KEYS TO SUCCESS

► It is important to be a good partner to the law firms you work with. The value proposition needs to be there for the law firm and the corporation.

► Look for outside counsel who can deliver good judgment and capable lawyering with a focus on managing costs and creating efficiencies.

► Find an appropriate way to bring your perspective, intuition and judgment to business discussions.

► General counsel must also be problem-solvers, sounding boards, innovators and even therapists.

— Kristin Coleman