Feb 3, 2014
Law360, New York (February 03, 2014, 7:45 PM ET) -- Corporate in-house counsel have picked 23 product liability attorneys who they say stand out for their exceptional client services, be it through developing partnerships and a shared sense of purpose or inventing new ways to handle the ever-changing legal landscape.
The product liability specialists were among 330 lawyers nominated by their clients in the 2014 BTI Client Service All-Stars report from The BTI Consulting Group Inc. (Wellesley, Mass.).
BTI President Michael Rynowecer said the winning attorneys were recognized by their corporate counterparts for their client focus, innovation, business competency, value provided, legal skills and ability to get good results.
“The legal industry is often considered a conservative industry, so to be able to step out in front, and really stick your neck out and try new things, sets you apart,” Rynowecer said. “Corporate product liability attorneys are looking for flexibility, new ways to better manage their product liability exposures and new ideas in managing the surge in activity that is expected.”
All-star Richard Bethea of Chambliss Bahner & Stophel PC said he always tries to focus on developing a keen understanding of the business he's working with.
“Every case and client is different, the products we defend vary significantly, but I think what the clients appreciate is the great lengths we go to to understand not just the product at issue, but the market and industry of which the product is a part,” Bethea said. “We try to understand that fine balance between all those considerations for developing a successful product in the marketplace.”
The key to that, Bethea said, is understanding the “real world” in which the product is designed and manufactured and sold and used.
Another aspect to outstanding client service is simple responsiveness to a client's needs, says Michael Gray of Gray Plant Mooty.
“I return phone calls within a half day, or I have my assistant respond and tell people where I'm at or when I'll be able to get back to them. I answer my own phone. I don't screen my calls. If I'm here, I answer my phone,” Gray said.
He also echoed the importance of knowing a client's business. He said he spends time off the clock getting to know the client's business and personnel, so that when issues come up, there's no learning curve required to understand how the issue fits into the client's business and why it's important.
“And that takes time, and investment. If this is going to be a long-term relationship, you have to understand the challenges and the business that they're in,” he said.
James F. Neale of McGuireWoods LLP said listening closely is a way he develops an understanding of his clients' businesses and goals.
“The first thing a lawyer's got to do is listen to what the client's telling him. And not talking, and listening instead, you can do an awful lot of good for a client once you understand what their needs and problems really are,” Neale said. “It's easier to be responsive once you're certain what it is the client wants you to respond to.”
Neale said he also helps “forecast” product liability issues his clients may face and takes steps to head off any problems, saying that clients are even more appreciative of counsel and advice that prevents lawsuits in the first place.
And Kara L. McCall of Sidley Austin LLP said it helps her to think of her client as a partner, which means it is crucial to have the same objectives and goals.
“That requires good communication and an in-depth understanding of each client's expectations for the litigation, for management of the matter and for the case's impact on the company. No one wants surprises, and a big part of my responsibility is to make sure that my client can see what is coming and can prepare for it,” McCall said.
Michael K. Brown of Reed Smith LLP added that it is important to give clients straight, truthful advice, even if it's not what they want to hear.
Other product liability all-stars singled out by general counsel for stellar client service were Stanley Abramson of Arent Fox LLP, Tynan Buthod of Baker Botts LLP, Jerry Blackwell of Blackwell Burke PA, Peter Herzog of Bryan Cave LLP, Trevor Will of Foley & Lardner LLP, Vito Costanzo of Holland & Knight LLP, Theodore Mayer of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, Mark Marionneaux of Kean Miller LLP, Chilton Davis Varner of King & Spalding LLP, Wayne Graver of Lavin O'Neil Ricci Cedrone & DiSipio, Paul Kuhnel of LeClairRyan, Mark Ter Molen of Mayer Brown LLP, Donna Peavler of The Peavler Group PC, Scott Feringa of Sullivan Ward Asher & Patton PC, J. David Duffy of Thompson Coburn LLP, Andrew Cox of Thompson Hine, Douglas Marvin of Williams & Connolly LLP, James Yukevich of Yukevich Cavanaugh and Bradford De Vore of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP.