Mark Smolik on the Importance of Delivering Law Firm Value and Accountability
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Here are some highlights of my interview with Mark Smolik:
“There’s got to be the balance between what it is that you’re expecting and what it is that law firms can deliver at a price point that meets their internal expectations and also addresses yours.”
“I’m hoping law firms continue to invest in technology and find the appropriate balance to deal with their cost structure from the cost of service delivered that ultimately does reflect itself in a more affordable financial model for the client.”
Mark, what advice would you give your younger attorney self? “Network, network and network.”
“For decades, I have seen personally working in-house, a seller’s market, where law firms literally dictated the terms of sale. But things have drastically shifted since 2008 general counsel have taken an approach in pressuring their outside counsel to deliver more and more meaningful value.”
“[Law firms] Sit down with your client. Make sure that they understand the expectations. Review the work or the projects that you’ve been doing. But you’re not going to be able to achieve ultimately a pure and a strong understanding of a value proposition unless you sit down and you have the conversation.”
“[Class Action Summit] This is what we expect of you. And as you defend these class actions, you are not nine independent law firms; you are all an extension of this corporate legal department. It is as if you were working within the four walls of this organization and we expect you to collaborate and we expect you to share research, and we expect you to share briefing. You’re all going to be researching the same rules of civil procedure; share the research.”
“I can’t tell you how much of a joy it is to get an email from outside counsel on a new matter, where the email is literally ghostwritten for me that all I need to do is cut, paste and send it to my board. “
“With a number of my firms, they are being much more proactive in their representation of us, they are much more business focused when it comes to how they address issues with which they’re dealing with us, and in many regards, anticipate our needs.”
If you have comments, recommendations, etc. please send them to Podcast@findthelions.com
Links referred to in this episode:
Maximizing Success & Embracing Change Article (Mentions 7 KPIs for rating law firms)
All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence by Suzanne Bates
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To Download the PDF Transcript, click here. (Look in the top right corner and click on the three dots to download.)
Hi listeners, this is Chris Batz, your host of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Today’s episode, I’m speaking with a general counsel of a global company and his perspective on corporate legal department trends, what he looks for in new team members, why law firms need to deliver more value, and much more.
Just a reminder, the PDF transcript of this audio is available to download. Go to LionGroupRecruiting.com/podcast.
As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsels and legal consultants. You’re listening to episode number seventeen of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Chris: Welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast, I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Mark Smolik, general counsel and chief compliance officer of DHL Supply Chain. Mark Smolik leads the company’s legal and commercial contracts management compliance and economic development teams. He also serves as global chair of the company’s supply chain legal service practice group. Prior to DHL, he served as senior vice president, general counsel and chief ethics officer of Safelite AutoGlass and was previously in-house at the Sherwin-Williams Company. Mark received his JD from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and his Bachelor of Arts degree from the John Carroll University. He’s a frequent speaker, the author of several publications on the changing dynamics of the legal industry. Welcome, Mark, to the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Mark: Thank you, Chris. I’m delighted to join you today.
Delivering Meaningful Value in a Buyers Market
C: Mark, what do you see being the general counsel of a global company, your perspective on the legal marketplace right now? What’s happening?
M: To put it in perspective, DHL is surely a global company. We operate in 222 different countries. My area of responsibility for the company is, as you mentioned, in legal and commercial contract management in the Americas for our supply chain operation. But in many of the changes that I have seen, particularly in the 28 years that I have been in-house, I’ve never seen as radical a change as has been taking place in the past 8 years.
And historically, particularly when you look at the operation of a legal department, the cost of running the department really fall into two different areas, one the fixed cost, and that’s the people, and the pens, and the paper, and everything that it takes to run the department and to support the people that work in-house in the department. But, Chris, the other side of the dynamic is the variable cost and oftentimes that can be significantly more expensive, more costly to an organization. And that typically involves the amounts of money in fees, expenses that are expended, retaining outside counsel, and in some instances, particularly in today’s legal market, alternative legal services providers.
But for decades, I have seen personally working in-house, a seller’s market, where law firms literally dictated the terms of sale – how often they would bill you, what they would bill you, what they would bill you for, and outline the expectations with regard to when payments were due, etcetera.
But things have drastically shifted and that shift, as I see it and I’ve experienced it, began really in 2008, when through the various challenges that multiple industries went through globally, a lot of changes started to take place in law departments who have consistently and for many, many years been under pressure to do more with less, but who had to then figure out how do I do more with less, especially when I look at how I am spending my money, either on the fixed side of the house with my people or the variable side of the house with regard to outside counsel.
And so in many regards, generals counsel began to take a more intensive focus on the financial and the operational aspects of the department. Of course, they’re stewards of the all things legal in the department, seeking to mitigate risk, identifying risk, identify trends for the business and providing input from a legal perspective that would have a meaningful impact on the operation so that they can adjust their own operations to avoid, if not, mitigate risks.
But in many regards, as they continued that focus,
general counsel began to take an approach, consistently as I have seen it, in pressuring their outside counsel to deliver more and more meaningful value
and in so doing, putting more and more at risk if not in jeopardy the traditional hourly rate billing arrangement that has been the mainstay in the legal industry, particularly for law firms for decades. And as that pressure continued to grow, from the corporate law department there was more and more demands with regard to what services would be delivered and when.
And not only in my time at Sherman Williams did I begin to experience a bit of a shift toward alternative fee agreements, but surely towards the end of my tenure at Safelite AutoGlass, and I left that organization in 2009, but as I joined DHL, I saw a significant shift. And the shift was one from a seller’s market, where the law firms were dictating the terms of sale, to now the buyer’s market. And it is something that began at a relatively quick pace and today, at least in my experience, has completely transformed the market into a buyer’s market.
But it’s not one that’s isolated to just here in the United States, it’s something that I have experienced with my team in Mexico, in Brazil, and Argentina, many of the countries that we have operations in and I am hearing from my peers and others’ general counsel in Europe and in Asia, and in elsewhere through the world. So it is a dynamic that has global impact throughout the industry, but it is definitely one that has shifted a lot of the buying power.
Procuring Legal Services and Looking for Balance
C: Mark, how are you approaching the process as a buyer of legal services?
M: The approach is first one, you’ve got to recognize that from a business perspective there is a balance and the balance is between what it is that the buyer of the service, typically the corporate legal department, wants to accomplish, sometimes with the support of their procurement departments, where much of
the goal is to procure services at the lowest common denominator possible. And then on the other side of the equation, of course, is the balance with the law firms, who the corporate law departments need and view often as an extension of their department and the seller of the services has an entire infrastructure to support as well.
So I mentioned that early on in this comment, Chris, because even though I have seen this shift,
it is a shift that needs to recognize that balance and there is a harmony between what it is that the corporate law departments are demanding, which is more value at a total lower cost, and what the law firms can deliver given the infrastructure that they have in place.
It can’t just be one-sided; there has to be this balance. And oftentimes that balance can best be achieved, and I’ve seen this with my own team, not only here at DHL, but at Safelite as well, when you sit down and you have a conversation on expectations and it’s not only the expectations of what needs to be achieved in a particular project, whether it’s a piece of litigation, whether it’s a finance related deal, whether it is some other commercial transaction, but oftentimes where I see gaps between the provider of the service, the law firm, and the buyer of the service, another corporate law department, is
there is little time taken to proactively sit down and just address expectations and talk about what those expectations are.
I often hear from law firms, when I have an opportunity to speak with folks like you or audiences that you are broadcasting this podcast to or even just cold calls from law firms, saying,
“What are your thoughts with regard to what we should do, particularly when it comes to embracing or acknowledging, dealing with some of these changes?” And the advice is pretty simple.
Sit down with your client. Make sure that understand the expectations. Review the work or the projects that you’ve been doing, whether it’s a one-off, whether it has been for years, but understand where your strengths are and where your gaps are and continue to polish the strengths, but by all means, close the gaps. But you’re not going to be able to achieve ultimately a pure and a strong understanding of a value proposition unless you sit down and you have the conversation.
And when I get the same question from either people in legal operations or generals counsel, my advice is the same thing and oftentimes it comes down to a simple message of, look folks, you sit down with your employees in the legal department and every year, with the support of your HR team, you give your people a performance review and you tell them what they’re doing well and what they’re not. And in many regards, that will dictate in their success and the value that they bring to your own organization and oftentimes it’s a roadmap for their career success.
If you’re doing that with your people and you’re seeing that it’s paying dividends within your internal team, then by all means, do it with your external team because you’re only going to succeed as a legal department if you do have harmony and alignment between the internal and the external team. And there’s got to be the balance between what it is that you’re expecting and what it is that they can deliver at a price point, particularly for the law firms, that meets their internal expectations and also addresses yours.
Hosted 9 Law Firms for a Class Action Defense Summit
C: Lets use this as an example of relationship that you used as a story before we started recording about you having class action and so it was the collaboration of multiple outsourced firms that you brought them to your headquarters and had to start collaborating. Can you describe that story for my listeners?
M: It’s no secret that our organization in the United States, particularly because it’s public, has been on the challenging end of some class action litigation, particularly in the employment or independent contractor perspective, primarily out of California, but we’re one of, unfortunately, thousands of companies that seem to be on the list of a plaintiff’s bar out on the West Coast with regard to significant industry players.
But we were sued in a number of jurisdictions, not just California, and we had class counsel in each of the venues where these law suits were pending. And we brought in representatives from each of the law firms into our headquarters here in Columbus, Ohio and we sat and most importantly made sure that everybody understood who was handling what piece of litigation, what the status of the litigation was, and what their individual role or responsibility was collectively in all the various pieces of litigation that we had pending at the time around the country. The time that we had, what we’ll call, this class action defense summit, we had nine class action law suits pending against us.
The most important thing that came out of that is competitors, all of whom would like to be handling all of this litigation and being paid fees, first and foremost heard from us exactly what we expected with regard to our expectations. We told them how we were going to evaluate their performance and we identified for them a set of key performance indicators, we call them KPIs, that we will use during the course and on the conclusion of the litigation to evaluate their performance. And we will be evaluating each of the firms against each other.
Now it wasn’t a hyper-competitive play. It wasn’t a means to do anything more than let people know this is exactly how you’re going to be evaluated.
Most importantly, this is what we expect of you. And as you go through this, you are not nine independent firms; you are all an extension of this department. It is as if you were working within the four walls of this organization and we expect you to collaborate and we expect you to share research, and we expect you to share briefing. You’re all going to be researching the same rules of civil procedure; share the research.
And, Chris, it worked wonderfully. We ended up with a situation where I had designated one of most senior people on my team as a lead coordinator among counsel, but
what I ended up seeing, in many regards, were significant synergies captured through the billing because I did not see nine firms billing for the same Rule 56c summary judgment research, for example.
I did see synergies between them. So just sitting down and having that summit, which took the better part of a day, provide us with a significant return on that investment and it is a model that we continue to leverage today, although, fortunately, we’re, at least for the moment, outside the crosshairs of the plaintiff’s bar with regard to the employment and the independent class action litigation, but on some of our more sophisticated transactions, we’re still leveraging that same sit-down summit-type approach.
C: And, Mark, did you have resistance from any of your outside counsel either before, during or after that summit?
M: Initially there was a few raised eyebrows of, “Really? We’re going to sit down with firms that we compete against to talk about how we can work and collaborate together?” Everybody showed up and everybody was a consummate professional, but what may have been a bit of skepticism within that first 15 – 20 minutes of us explaining to everybody the purpose of the summit, what we were seeking to accomplish and why we were seeking to accomplish it, and what our end game was, in other words, what our goal coming out of this was, it became a non-event and it really was as if nine firms were part and parcel of this law department.
C: I’d love for you to expound on again, this accountability of corporate legal departments and outside counsel law firms. There was another article I read that you were written about and you shared about seven KPIs. I don’t know if that’s the consistent number of KPIs you use with outside counsel, but would be able to expand on that?
M: Sure. The KPIs that you’re referring to are something that I first came up with the better part of ten years ago when I was at Safelite AutoGlass. Safelite is a rather large privately-held company. We were dealing with a fair amount of litigation at the time and in fact it was about the company litigation filed by a competitor. And I won’t get into too much of the detail, but it involved a significant number of firms being employed by the company and significant numbers of lawyers at the various firms as well.
But in my role at Safelite, I was also the head of HR and, Chris, when I was looking at what we were doing in HR day in and day out and making sure we had the right talent and the right jobs and people were being held accountable to certain performance standards, I was asking my people in procurement and people in finance what we were doing with our outside service providers to hold them at least accountable to the same standards that we’re being held accountable to. And I’ve had those conversations, but I have the same conversations with friends of mine who were either in-house in legal departments or in HR at other companies and I was getting the same answers,
“Well, we don’t do anything with the outside.” I said, “But why? You’re spending more outside than you are inside. We need to be better fiscal stewards of the money that we are spending and make sure that we’re evaluating performance of outside service providers to the same objective standards as we do inside.”
So I sat down and said, “Look, here are the themes against which we evaluate our in-house people; let’s do the same with our outside counsel.” And that’s where the original seven KPIs that you’re referring to came from. There’s many more that we use at this point that are more focused on the net promoter score and the true value driver so that you can objectively measure and evaluate it. But the interesting dynamic that I have seen over the years and following those KPIs and focusing on the value proposition is the improvement of the service level.
I can’t tell you how many more of my own law firms, who years ago did not have the opportunity to have the discussion because we hadn’t kicked this off, who hear this story about working for a very entrepreneurial company, which DHL is, and we were founded by three companies. There really was a D, H and L, who founded the company back in 1969. But when people hear that that you’re working for a business made up of entrepreneurs and these are business people and they want to identify and mitigate risk as much as they can and one of your roles is to be proactive in helping us do so, and outlining for them how we think and how we expect our outside service providers to think as well, that just leads to a much better roadmap for increased service.
And what I then ended up seeing over the years, particularly with a number of my firms, are they are being much more proactive in their representation of us, they are much more business focused when it comes to how they address issues with which they’re dealing with us, and in many regards, anticipate our needs.
I can’t tell you how much of a – and I guess the right word to use is – a joy it is to get an email from outside counsel on a new matter, where the email is literally ghostwritten for me that all I need to do is cut, paste and send it to my board.
Long gone are the emails of, “Hey, Mark, there’s a new case I think. Here’s a link to it. Maybe you ought to read it.” Like many in-house attorneys, I don’t have the time, but when somebody does take the time because they understand what our expectations are, to summarize a new develop in a law or have a relationship with somebody in the business where they send that to them unsolicited, it really drives the value proposition for the firm.
We grew from 7 to 58 by Bringing Commodity Work In-House
C: I wanted to ask you if you could expound on just this trend that it being a buyer’s market, but at the same time the growth of the corporate legal department world. Can you explain that and feel free to use DHL as an example?
M: Sure. When it comes to a buyer’s market, you know, you look at a couple of things and if you just look at the data that is out there from multiple sources, whether it is Altman Weil surveys or whether it is surveys put out by Georgetown Law School, etcetera, you know, you look at the changes, particularly over the course of the past couple decades, and I’m – I won’t walk you through all of those, but ultimately we are at a point where when you look at the various survey data and that data segregates out where corporate law departments are spending their money, you’re seeing that 53% of law department spend is internally and that to me is shocking.
I can recall the days at Sherwin-Williams where we had a relatively large law department. It was a global operation and we were more likely to have a 20% spend internally, 80% externally. That was just the makeup of the organization. When I started at DHL, we surely followed that format and we have completely flipped that on its head for a number of reasons. One, when I joined the company, and I don’t think I’m unique in this regard, it was just more of a business approach to how we do what we do and the accountability of every function in our department to make sure that they have meaningful metrics that are reported to the business.
We looked at where we were spending our money, the fixed side or the variable side. The variable side was way too high. We did an inventory, Chris, of what work are we doing that we would consider to be commodity work, for example, our real estate leasing. We have hundreds and hundreds of facilities just in the United States where there are leases that are done and reviewed or touched every single year. The same is true with regard to employment claims.
Almost all of that work was outsourced to outside counsel; we brought it all in-house. We spend virtually nothing with outside counsel now with regard to real estate leasing work, very limited exceptions, but very, very little money. The same is true with regard to our historical spend on employment and the same is true with regard to historical spend on commercial contracts and related transactions; almost all of that work is done in-house, so in many regards, some pretty significant growth in the numbers of people in our department. When I started we were a team of 7; today we’re a team of 58.
Now, there’s been some people in other departments that have been merged into the legal department as it has continued to grow, but it is part of this shift into the buyer’s market that involves a focus not only by generals counsel, but also by people in legal operations that generals counsel are putting into place to make sure the departments, law departments in particular, are being run like a business, particularly so that they can account for every dollar that they’re spending. And in a hyper-competitive market, especially a market that we operate in, where margins are only so finite, you’ve only got so much money to spend and you’re going to have to be very, very vigilant as to how you spend that money.
What a General Counsel of a Global Company looks for in New Hires?
C: What do you look for in recruiting and hiring new in-house attorney?
M: Chris, I’m going to address that from two perspectives, the first being new attorneys fresh out of school and second being new attorneys who may have some experience that we’re seeking to bring into the department. I did something a couple of years ago I’ve never done and I thought I would never do and that is I hired two freshly minted law students out of Ohio State University Law School. Of course, we’re based in Columbus, Ohio. There was a natural fit there. We sat down, we talked with the dean of the law school about what we were seeking to do at the time and we created what was referred to as two fellowship positions, so we brought two new students in and we assigned them to work with two senior people within the organization.
We made sure that we had a training program in place to help make these folks as productive as possible. But two years into what one might call a bit of a let’s-see-how-it-works, I wouldn’t say experiment, I’ve got two very high performing people that are very engaged with the business, that are getting experience and exposure in a corporate setting, that quite candidly, when I roll the clock back to 1999, when I joined Sherwin-Williams and I was a three-year attorney coming out of a law firm, I never had.
And there is a number of reasons why I think it has been so successful for us. First and foremost, what we were looking for, surely not book smarts. Anybody who comes out of law school has got a sense of book smarts, especially if they passed the Bar exam.
But first and foremost we’re looking for is this person somebody that will fit among the team.
When you’re that junior, it’s hard to tell, but it’s more of the chemistry, it’s more of the personality.
The more senior the person, whether it’s five or seven or nine or ten years out of school, sure, you’re looking for the experience and do they have the knowledge, the wherewithal, to be able to pick up a practice group area or maybe a subject matter expert in a particular area as well. But I really don’t care how much experience you have in those areas, if you’re not going to fit within the team, you’re not going to succeed.
And we, like many corporate law departments, invest an awful lot of time in talent development and in many regards it’s tough to bring somebody in and have it not work out, so we spend an awful lot of time vetting, now through panel interview settings, people joining the department, whether it’s legal, commercial contracts, management or the economic development team, to make sure that we have a fit, but that decision is not just made by people in our department. New candidates will interview with the business. They’ll interview with HR and in many regards at least one other senior member of the management team.
C: What led you, Mark, to actually bring in two inexperienced or no experienced attorneys from law school?
M: The dean of Ohio State Law School asked me. Chris, it’s as simple as that.
He called. He said, “Let’s go to lunch. I want you to think about something.” I told – his name is Alan – I said, “Alan, I’ve never through about it. Why would I do that?” But in the ensuing several months that I evaluated that, and yeah, it took me a bit of time to get my head around it, I sat down with my people in legal operations and I said, “I want you to pull some information for me. Look at the prior two years of all of the billing of first and second-year associates from the law firms that had billed us,” and this was employment and just general matters. We weren’t doing a lot of employment, but just in general. And I got the list. And I said, “Okay, on average it’s about 325 dollars an hour.” And then we just chatted as a team. “Folks, what value are we getting for that?” And then we literally sat down and said, “Alright, this is what it’s going to cost us all in, fully loaded to bring in somebody fresh, comparable to somebody who’s at the law firm. Why not do it on our own? Yeah, there may be some challenges that we have with regard to training, particularly initially, there may be additional time that we need to invest as a team, but we’re going to be able to deliver a service at a much lower cost for a first and second-year associate and we’re going to have somebody who is ingrained in the organization getting to know people.”
But, Chris, something happened I never anticipated and I still am surprised. The two folks that I did bring in that are obviously still with me today, they have brought into the department a younger client base within our own organization. I don’t mean within my department, but among the various people that they touch and that they interact within the business, there are more and more people with whom they are interacting that are within their age group that are seeking legal services and that surprised me. So there was an unknown – there was surely an unknown there, but one that has been very, very beneficial.
Where is the Next Generation of Attorneys Coming From?
C: What do you see overall from a high-level perspective with the supply of attorneys in the legal market?
M: A concern and it’s a pretty deep concern. And the reason I say that is because when you look at the supply of new lawyers coming in and you evaluate what is going on in law schools, particularly the ABA law schools, throughout the United States, enrolment in law school is down significantly. In some regards, some people will say 25 – 30, if not in some schools, 40%. Now there are many of the Ivy League schools that are exceptions to that, but, by and large, the statistics show law school enrolment is way down. If I take just my own law school, it is down significantly over the course of the past 25 years and that’s true for most of the law schools in Ohio.
Now, there’s many factors that are driving that, Chris, whether it has to do with the opportunities in law or the Great Recession that people like me refer to that began in 2008, shifting to a buyer’s market and what those opportunities are coming out of law school, let alone the cost. But the fact of the matter is, is the pipeline coming in is small. And when you look at the data that has been published, particularly with regard to the demographics of the licensed bar in the United States, we have roughly 1.4 million licensed attorneys in the U.S. Now, they’re working in various capacities, private, public sectors, some not even necessarily using their law degree in their day-to-day employment activities. But if I compare, for example, just pick a 25-year period of time between 1980 and 2005, back in 1980, 36% percent of all licensed lawyers were 35 years or younger. By 2005 it was 13%.
As of the end of last year, 4% of all licensed attorneys in the United States are under the age of 30.
The growing gap between who is entering, especially at a typical billing rate that is affordable and where the bulk of the licensed lawyers are working, which is 74% being between the ages of 35 and 65 is pretty significant and continues to grow. When you look at what will happen to that group over the course of the next ten years, unless we have significant enrollments back into law school and a pipeline that is much bigger than it is right now, we’re going to have a talent gap. But it’s going to create significant opportunities and it’s going to be opportunities that expand beyond the dynamics of the traditional law firm market. And those opportunities will fall into the hands of alternative legal service providers, whether it’s e-discovery companies, whether it is companies that evaluate performance of alternative legal service providers, let alone law firms, but there will be multiple opportunities created.
But at the end of the day, there is still advice that has to be given by people to people.
My biggest concern, especially give I’ve got hopefully a number of years left in my career is where’s the next generation coming from.
When I add on to that, just the change in the number of employed lawyers over a period of almost 20 years ending in 2016, when you look at the growth of corporate law departments in-house and they have grown by over 200%, when you look at law firms, that same growth over that same period of time, has been a little over 25% and yet governments not quite 50%. So law firm growth, which historically has employed 75-plus percent percent of lawyers for decades, is pretty flat, year over year over a 20-year period of time. And the real explosive growth area continues to be in-house. So you see this continued shift, not just in the buyer’s market but where lawyers are actually going to practice their trade and it is with the client.
Legal Industry Trends of Consolidation and Technology
C: What’s your perspective on what’s happening to the law firm side of things as far as consolidation and where this is all going?
M: There will continue to be consolidation. I mean just look at last week with Sedgwick is saying it’s going to close its doors. You see some of the largest law firms in the world, Denton’s, for example, acquiring or merging or joining forces with law firms around the world and I think that will continue. I saw a statistic within the past couple of weeks that in the past five years, 2,000 law firms had either dissolved or gone out of business, that’s of every shape and size, and if needed I can get you the specific reference for that, but I don’t see that changing. I do see the law firm model continuing to be challenged and that model being based on the historical hourly billing rate.
There has to be a different approach and the law firm or the law firms that come up with a billing model that is more reflective of how their clients sell their own services, are the ones that are going to be the most successful. But even if the hourly billing rate does not change and I am completely wrong in that capacity, the firms that truly understand what value means to their clients and how their clients are evaluating their performance are the ones that are going to be the most successful. I’ve seen that in my time in HR when I was at Safelite, I see that with my own people as well that there will be continued consolidation and it’s going to open, in my opinion, and I think the right word to use is just significant, if not massive opportunities for alternative service providers.
There will be continued discussion about technology and how technology can be leveraged. But, Chris, I’ve been very upfront with my firms, particularly when it comes to technology. Invest as you may, it matters not to me what you invest in if the ultimate cost of your service because you were investing in technology to improve your efficiencies did not ultimately reflect itself in better and more meaningful value, whether measured in dollars or measured in service, to my organization. What I have heard from many, many law firms is yes, we have invested significant amounts of money in technology, but when I sit down and I have the conversation of how is that driving efficiency and offering me a better return on investment, what I end up hearing is it’s helping protect the margin of the law firm. And that is fine, but at the end of the day, there has to be something meaningful for me.
So I’m hoping that as the service providers, particularly the law firms continue to invest in technology, they find the appropriate balance to deal with their cost structure from the cost of service delivered that ultimately does reflect itself in a more affordable financial model for the client.
Passionate about Family and Woodworking
C: What are you currently passionate about right now?
M: Well, Chris, on the personal side, passionate, perhaps more prideful, of two sons both of whom are grown adults. One of whom most recently passed the Ohio bar and was sworn in as an attorney here in Ohio working for a law firm here in Ohio.
C: That’s excellent.
M: He’s got his first full-time employment position in a law firm. And time will tell how his career may develop, but he grew up in a household where the dinner room conversation was largely around law, so he’s got an awful lot of exposure to that already. The second is my son who graduated from Dayton – University of Dayton, as did my older son as well, who works in aeronautical engineering for General Electric, so they are both just this year kicking off their careers, literally 30 years ago to, in many regards, the week from my older son and the year from my younger son that I kicked off my legal career, so it was a pretty telling for us.
I’ve also just celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with my wife, who I met at John Carroll.
C: Oh, congratulations.
M: Thank you. Who I met at John Carol University. And when I am not in the office or spending time with the boys or my wife or family, I am an avid woodworker and have been for the better part of 35 years. I make a lot of furniture, much of which we donate.
C: Really? That sounds fascinating.
M: In fact, a piece of that furniture was donated to somebody in the military as a new kitchen set. But it is something that we take an awful lot of pride in, not only cutting down the tree and knowing it and actually building the furniture from there.
C: So let me get this straight. You were a carpenter by trade?
M: When I was 17 years old, I went to work for a construction company doing the work that nobody wanted to do. But I continued to work for that company and learned construction and then broke out and formed my own construction company when I was at the tail end of college and I worked my as a sub-trade contractor through law school. And that served as the basis for my carpentry and woodworking skills today.
C: That’s fun. And do you do the woodworking yourself or do you have either your sons or other people join you in the creation of the furniture?
M: No, no, the boys do it with me. Oh yeah.
C: Oh, that’s fun.
M: In fact, much of the furniture in my son’s condominium – my older son’s condominium, he and I worked on. And my youngest son, where he lives, we worked on much of the furniture in his place as well.
C: And you don’t sell it, so this isn’t necessarily a business, correct?
M: No, no. I’ve got wood everywhere. I’ve got a warehouse with wood. We’ve got a pretty big workshop. We have had some people ask for pieces, but no, I don’t charge people for what we make.
C: That’s amazing. So it’s safe to say that being charitable and generous is a family value for you guys.
M: It always has been. And fortunately, I still have ten fingers and I just take my time working on the furniture.
C: That’s good.
M: Just make sure I keep the dust down.
C: What are you reading right now? Do you have any recommendations of things for the audience to pick up and thumb through?
M: There’s a book out there called Speak Like a CEO. It was written by the bestselling author Suzanne Bates and she has published a book recently captioned All the Leader You Can Be and it is about the science of achieving extraordinary executive presence. It is something that resonates pretty deeply with me, particularly from my HR background and my own team and making sure that we’re working on career development plans, but it is one that I highly recommend to people. It focuses not just on the theory, but insight into character and substance and style and different leadership styles and how to adapt as well. But All the Leader You Can Be by Suzanne Bates.
C: I know you had mentioned that you do enjoy fiction, do you have any fiction books or authors that you recommend as well?
M: You know, when we’re sitting as we do as a family and we do a lot of boating and there’s just quiet time sitting out on a lake, I just like a good John Grisham novel. The stories build on each other and I always find them pretty interesting, sometimes hard to put down.
Advice for Younger Self
C: Mark, what advice would you give yourself if you were to go back 30 years and start your career over again as an attorney? What advice would you give yourself?
M: Network, network and network.
C: Oh, that’s fascinating.
M: I waited 20 years to do it.
C: Oh, wow.
M: And it’s not that it was an anchor or it held me back, but there was so much focus working my way through Sherwin-Williams for 13 years, of course, you’ve got the family and I was traveling a lot internationally. And then starting at Safelite when I was 39 – 38 years old as a general counsel and kind of a wonderment of what does all this mean. Well, I was more focused on the job and what I needed to do to do the job efficiently and effectively than anything else.
And it wasn’t until about ten years ago when I met some people who are very, very influential in my professional and personal life, that I really found how valuable that network can be and how much it will help facilitate you doing your job easier or anything that you want to do in life easier. So I encourage not just my sons, but the two very young people that have come into the organization and even my senior leadership – and one person yesterday who is in the prime of his career – but encouraging, look, speak on panels, get your name out there, network with people because the more and more you network, the more you’re going to find, not only opportunities coming your way in a number of different capacities, but particularly when you’re networking at events where there may be other in-house counsel, some of whom may be customers of our organization, the more easier it is for us to facilitate some business transactions. So get out there. And it’s something that we invest a fair amount of money in to make sure that people do have those opportunities.
C: Right, and so you mentioned speaking, you mentioned event-driven networking, so it’s more face-to-face than even something like social media or LinkedIn for you?
M: Well, I am still a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to how to effectively use such social media.
C: Yeah, that’s alright.
M: But the value of your forum, with regard to particularly the reputation that you have Chris.
C: Thank you.
M: Is very, very strong. And your audience is very, very broad. But whether or not it is through this type of social media that you and I are engaged in right now or speaking at an event or just writing an article about something or offering to be on a panel, let alone getting involved in an organization such as ACC, Association of Corporate Counsel, even in a small role, will help expand that network. And I’m repeating myself a bit, but I’ve had the opportunity to do that now for the better part of ten years and there are multiple instances where when we do have issues with customers, I will know somebody in the in-house department, if not the general counsel, to be able to call and say, “Hey, we’ve got an issue that we’ve got to work ourselves through.” But you’ve got to be proactive in doing it and it takes work, sometimes it can take a lot of work.
C: Yeah, yeah, that makes a-
M: But it pays dividends.
C: I can see how that happens and it makes a lot of sense. Well, Mark, I really appreciate your time today. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time.
M: Well, Chris, I’m very delighted that you had me and thank you so much for the opportunity.