25 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – AUGUST 2023 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM CLIENT EXPERIENCE tool. One of the things I always ask firms – especially those I know are expensive – is to give me weekly fee updates. They have the tools to pull in the time that’s been spent in readable charts and graphs. Every single firm that we work with should invest in that sort of technology. That’s something that would be really helpful to be able to monitor the WIPs,” says Harahap. ALL HANDS ON DECK Practice makes perfect, and years of experience normally translate to a solid track record. Therefore, in-house legal departments generally want the A-team led by marquee partners from their external law firms to stay on top of their case and make sure everything is on track. But sometimes that’s not the case, with partners taking leave and the transactions pawned off to junior lawyers. “I want the handling partner to be heavily involved,” says Simundac-Delos Santos. “If there’s going to be an important meeting, it should be with the handling partner. The reason you’re engaging this external counsel is because of their expertise. So I want to talk to the senior lawyer who’s supposed to be the expert and not the junior lawyer who’s still in training.” For Harahap, partnership-level engagement is not necessary if there’s a stellar army of mid- to senior-level associates to work on his transactions. But more often than not, it’s the partners who can spot the pitfalls and bring the deal over the line. “When these partners reviewed the work, there was some output that we never really thought about. For example, they gave us a really good advice and said, look, this might hunt you down in your representation and warranties. And I’m like, you know what, that’s correct. And we wouldn’t have known that if it wasn’t an experienced partner who gave the advice. Those sorts of things are valuable,” says Harahap. In addition, “When dealing with local government, sometimes the partners have a relationship with the higherups. They know how to navigate it more efficiently and where the red flags are. So before due diligence they already flag it up front and say, look, this is what you have to look out for. Two months down the deal it’s the same sort of issues they’ve already flagged before and that’s when we know we’re getting really good representation,” he adds. However, an unresponsive partner or a team leader who fails at delegation could not only cause friction between working teams, but also derail a transaction and have a severe impact on the business. Park cites one incident where such mishaps left a bitter taste in the in-house team’s month. “The partner said that they had done these transactions many times. We had used them previously and we kind of liked them. And the partner said he was going on vacation but he’s going to make sure that someone would handle our secured lending transaction. But then we ended up with a gross error that should never even have occurred. It had big, material consequences for the client as well.” Adds the anonymous GC in Singapore, “We currently have a project. We engaged a firm that we’ve engaged before. We believed in what they presented. But when the project started it’s very difficult to get hold of the partner. As a business, we entrusted you and if you are not there, you have to send someone that responds to us what’s going on here. It’s not every time you ask and they’re always like ‘I’ll check and get back to you.’” And when duplicity is thrown into the mix, it can be the last straw. “One partner tried to overcharge us. The discrepancy between what we expected for the type of work that was being done, which honestly, we thought could have been done by a paralegal, and then the seniority of the lawyer who actually did the work, the amount of work that was done, and the amount that was billed to us for what we thought was a relative trivial matter, was astounding. Needless to say, we never went back to them,” Park tells ALB. The Manila-based GC concludes, “Even if you are the best lawyer, the best law firm, if your bedside manners are deficient, it’s not good to work with you.” TRUST IS GOLD It’s not likely for Simundac-Delos Santos to go back to firms which gave her team wrong legal advice or did not deliver as promised. Harahap also cites inadequate output as one of the dealbreakers of the partnership between his team and the external law firm. “We had a firm that had represented us long before my time. They were previously a firm of choice for local deals, and they were the kind of firm that when we said jump and they asked how high. Then it came to my attention that their service or output (which we were paying for) was subpar. It’s like I’m working with junior members of my team whom I had to develop,” recalls Harahap. Park calls out firms that intentionally misled his team. “If the firm misrepresented some facts because of negligence, no problem; But if they knew that it was wrong, or that they intentionally misrepresented what I thought was a material fact in a situation, that generally will cover most breaches of trust,” says Park. “Relationship is undeniably one of the pivotal factors,” notes Harahap. “Reputable firms invest time in nurturing these relationships and check up on you from time to time to try to understand your business more. However, some firms neglect this altogether. Personally, I strive for objectivity and would like a chance to work with everyone. Even in cases where relationship-building is lacking, if a firm possesses exceptional expertise in a required area, I maintain a constructive approach. Yet, due to the increased competition between (local) firms, without this relational element, some of these firms would not be on my radar.” Adds Park, “There are all sorts of issues that come up from time to time where you simply just trust the lawyer to give you the honest, unvarnished truth. It could be how much it’s going to cost; the extent of the problem at hand; the reasons for a mistake that has been made; weakness on their team, my team, or the opposing team; whether the sun is rising from the East.” “If I lose trust in my lawyer, that’s it. It’s a human relationship, just like any other relationship,” Park says.