Value Drivers: Google’s Outside Counsel, Michelle Knight, Describes How Openness to Change Improved Client Relationships

Value Drivers: Google’s Outside Counsel, Michelle Knight, Describes How Openness to Change Improved Client Relationships

Behind every corporate legal team or law firm inspired to deliver exceptional value to their corporate clients is a leader who recognizes the need for new levels of clarity and transparency in performance.

In this series I interview legal industry leaders and innovators that are bringing transparency to legal performance in their own unique way. In this interview, I speak with Michelle Knight, shareholder and co-chair, patent prosecution at Young Basile Hanlon & MacFarlane.

This week’s interview follows on from our last interview with Sylvia Chen at Google. Michelle Knight has been the interface for Google on implementing its outside counsel guidelines within her firm: Troy, Michigan’s Young Basile Hanlon & MacFarlane.

RP:
Michelle, how did you learn that Sylvia Chen and her team at Google had an evaluation process for their outside counsel, and what were your first thoughts about it?

Michelle:
It was our first discussion of Google’s KPI (key performance indicator) guidelines about two years ago. I was nervous about making sure that we met expectations. There was a little bit of uncertainty about what data was going into the process and how we would use the results once we received them.

RP:
What was the next step?

Michelle:
We received the results of the first evaluation, and we extensively analyzed them internally. For example, we took each of our rankings, and we went through our records to determine which data points we could improve on. We looked at what contributed to a score that may not have been what we wanted. There’s a timeliness assessment, an in-house counsel quality assessment and other factors. We gathered our whole team together to discuss the results. We talked with our billing department about changing practices to conform with Google’s expectations. Now, each time we get one of these reports, we go through them and see if there is anything we can learn from them and any internal practices we can change to keep the score where it is or move it higher.

RP:
Were you surprised by any of the things that were being measured?

Michelle:
No, we weren’t surprised by it. Google is very clear about their expectations. They set guidelines and expect us to comply with them, so we expect to be measured on our conformance to their requirements. Certain things have been clarified and modified based on practice and the passage of time, but they’ve always been very clear on their expectations of outside counsel.

RP:
Were you surprised by the scores in any way?

Michelle:
We were surprised by our in-house counsel quality score in the first report we received. We were also surprised the first time by our billing timeliness score.

RP:
How far would you say the impact of these results went in the firm?

Michelle:
One of our favorite things in the report is the comments from the in-house counsel. There’s no indication who made the comments or who it was actually about, but reading those comments gives us a lot of insight into what counsel appreciates about firms and what they don’t like. We have learned from those comments, and we spread them out into other parts of the firm – not the specifics, but making sure you consider the economic impact or the marketing impact and so forth.

RP:
How has this process affected your relationship with Google?

Michelle:
I know it made me feel more like I am in tune with their goals. The whole team feels that we know their expectations better. There is nothing more important to us than making sure the client is happy and the client is getting the service that they want and the output they want. Knowing what the expectations are makes it easier for us to do that. The more a client is clear on what they want, the more likely you will give them what they want.

RP:
If another firm told you they had been approached to begin a process like this, what would be your advice?

Michelle:
Learn everything that you can about the results. It’s an important part of the process. The fact is the more you learn what the client would like, the better you’ll serve them. It could be a little intimidating and nerve-wracking to know that someone is judging you and assessing your performance, but it’s important.

RP:
Thank you.

Being evaluated gives all of us the opportunity to know where we stand. Michelle Knight’s willingness to learn and improve is critical to the benefit that she and her firm receive from the evaluation process.

While the task of building your own internal process may seem daunting, Sylvia Chen’s experience at Google shows that any process like this evolves over time. The key is to embark on the journey, don’t overcomplicate it and refine as you go.

Know a Value Driver or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview: rolf.provan@qualmetlegal.com

Rolf Provan is VP Marketing & Operations at Qualmet.
Follow Qualmet on Twitter: @qualmetlegal

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