General Electric has developed what it’s calling a Yelp for lawyers.
An internal website is now available to its approximately 800 in-house lawyers, through which they can search “preferred providers” of outside counsel and learn about their track record with the company.
Titled GE Select Connect, more than 200 of the company’s outside law firms maintain profiles (à la Facebook) that feature firm information, including feedback the outside firms have received from GE lawyers, the firm’s diversity staffing levels, hourly rates, along and discounts the company has previously achieved.
The internal site will provide GE lawyers with a better handle on discounts they can negotiate with outside law firms, gain easy access to firms’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as phone numbers and emails for primary contacts, said Dan Hendy, associate general counsel at GE, who oversaw the creation of the tool.
“It’s a good way to collaborate,” said Hendy, who noted that the law firms listed on the site are only GE’s preferred providers, “a little more than” 200 firms which have signed an agreement stipulating negotiated rates and possibly other benefits over a certain period of time.
“It makes being a preferred provider at GE more meaningful,” said Hendy, who framed the website as “a great marketing platform” for outside firms, since preferred law firms can update their profiles with information and news about firm initiatives and matters they’re handling.
So far, Hendy said that the use cases are fairly simple and it certainly isn’t being used to select counsel for bet-the-company litigation or blockbuster M&A. He estimated that as much as 80 percent of GE’s 800 lawyers have the ability to hire outside counsel directly.
Hendy declined to name GE’s top outside law firms or provide a dollar figure for its overall legal spend. But according to a search on Bloomberg Law and public announcements, its outside law firms have included a smattering of large firms as the giant conglomerate is well-known for being one of the top fee providers in the legal industry. Its outside firms have included Sidley Austin, Hogan Lovells, Weil Gotshal & Manges, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Sullivan & Cromwell and Arnold & Porter.
Below is an image of the law firms that have appeared in U.S. federal courts on behalf of General Electric over the past year, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.
GE’s new site also ties into a broader initiative within the Fortune 11 company to become more digital, make decisions faster and become more “horizontal,” as Hendy put it. He said the company is pushing to implement “more shared services,” in which different parts of GE’s legal workforce interface more closely, as opposed to operating in “legal silos.” Along with this, GE has installed new dashboards for its lawyers to review legal spend and analytics tools to manage cases and deals.
Regarding GE Select Connect, Hendy explained that the site was built after in-house lawyers identified problems with how it engaged outside counsel. For one thing, the company endured a lengthy RFP process, in which lawyers were not as informed as they could be in their purchasing of legal services.
“When you think about it, we didn’t have a good tool to help our attorneys make informed decisions about their selection of counsel,” said Hendy. “We didn’t have a good mechanism to communicate the type of (pre-existing) arrangements that we had… if there was a volume based discount or complimentary hours that may have been available, or the ability to use low cost secondments.”
Hendy also said that the firm wanted to harness data accumulated from its Tymetrix e-billing tool, which tracks hours worked by outside attorneys on different matters, rather than letting the service (which he said the company pays a pretty penny for) go to waste.
“People are shocked that it’s an internal tool we built,” said Hendy.
Over the course of six months in 2016, Chris Ende, a GE pricing and legal project manager, and Rachel Matvichuk, a business metrics specialist, built out a WordPress platform and the site officially became available to GE lawyers in early November.
To keep the site fresh, law firm profiles are regularly updated as the site asks for feedback from GE lawyers about the outside firms — either when a matter concludes, or at a one-year anniversary of the law firm working on a matter.
After GE lawyers offer feedback, the law firm profiles update with their latest performance evaluation and Chis Ende is tasked with overseeing the data to make sure everything is accurate, said Hendy.
On the most basic level, the site presents three options: a smiley face, neutral face or sad face, which the GE lawyers can choose depending on their satisfaction with outside counsel. Then, lawyers can express their likes or dislikes of the firm’s performance by selecting words from a word bank.
Words such as “poor judgment,” “non-responsive” or “too expensive” are listed as negative options, while “efficiency,” “knowledge of GE” and “expertise” are some of the positive words. The lawyers also have the option of providing written comments.
In the end, GE lawyers can see outside law firms’ ratings in a “heat map,” or a bar that shows all the positive and negative reviews in green and red, as opposed to a traditional Yelp, 5 star rating, said Hendy. This way, in-house lawyers can hover over the bar and see the individual feedback — negative or positive — and drill into the content. [GE declined to provide an image of this part of the tool’s functionality.]
GE spokesman Jeff Caywood said that all preferred providers have been notified of GE Select Connect. If you aren’t on the list, the company reviews its outside counsel every four years, with the next review due two years from now. However, it’s stiff competition, and the company has recently reduced its number of preferred providers. In the beginning of 2015, during its most recent review, the company downsized its preferred provider list by 25 percent, according to Hendy.
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