Risk Update

Down on OCGs — Industry Survey and Experts Complain about Compliance

Law.com pulls together several surveys and points of view to remind us: “Outside Counsel Guidelines Are Straining Law Firm-Client Relationships” —

  • “OCGs are becoming increasingly prevalent. They’re also becoming increasingly varied and complex, leading many law firms to either waste time trying to reconcile them all or to just ignore them altogether. Needless to say, neither of those scenarios is ideal for a healthy law firm-client relationship.”
  • “Only 32% of responding firms said they were confident that more than 50% of their lawyers actually knew the OCGs for their matters… But remaining ignorant to clients’ OCGs creates the potential for firms to leave money on the table—or at least leave the proverbial check in the mail.”
  • “‘Law firms may find themselves in a difficult situation if they do not comply with a client’s guidelines because they failed to read them,’ Dentons partners Klevens and Clair wrote. ‘Such a defense may not be particularly strong in a subsequent dispute or may otherwise create friction with a client that could be avoided.'”
  • “Klevens and Clair pointed out that while law firms’ engagement letters are often drawn specifically to define the client relationship and, at times, to shape a law firm’s potential exposure to the client, OCGs may not provide those same protections.”
  • “‘For example, the definition of who the ‘client’ is in a set of outside counsel guidelines could be expansive, including not only the direct corporate client but also related entities,’ Klevens and Clair wrote. ‘Such a scenario could create complications for a law firm’s exposure or in future conflicts analysis. Indeed, the law firm could be found to owe duties to an entity that the law firm did not expect—but might have been able to consider or negotiate if the risk had been identified.'”
  • “But to the extent that OCGs are creating more nonbillable headaches for outside counsel, clients can help by streamlining their communications to highlight what’s most important to them.”
  • “Argopoint partner Jason Winmill told Law.com’s Guzman that OCGs are often unfocused and stuffed with minutiae. ‘Counsel guidelines are both too strict and not strict enough,” Winmill said. “And I’d say counsel guidelines often are lengthy and focus a lot on minutiae that doesn’t ultimately add up to much more than a hill of beans.'”
  • “The problem is compounded when lawyers have to work for more than a dozen clients, in many cases.”