Law firms seeking to do business with Northwestern Mutual will want to note what GC Ray Manista considers to be three important qualities:

  • Be a team player
  • Be flexible during the representation
  • Don’t surprise us with your legal bills

In a recent BNA article titled, “What Northwestern Mutual’s GC Looks For in a Law Firm,” the GC for this leading national life insurance company talked about how he hires law firms for his panel of outside counsel, and how he evaluates potential panel counsel members.

When asked what characteristics he looks for in a law firm, Mr. Manista replied,

Starting with the notion that we’re supplementing our team, not outsourcing work, I would say the teaming approach is essential.

We believe that two heads are better than one. We know ourselves well. We know our strategy well. But we don’t know everything. We look for firms that understand our context but also can bring something else to the table to help round out our point of view.

I should say, we hire lawyers from the outside who have worked at private practice just like I did. We understand the law firm model, and we understand how they might come at issues. That puts us in a place where we truly can team as if we were part of the same team inside of a law firm.

We want firms that would welcome that approach. We want flexibility, not rigidity — flexibility both in terms of how we staff and support a matter, and that’s going to vary from matter to matter, as well as flexibility in approach to how we might bill a particular matter.

Some firms — and I think this is less true today than it was five or ten years ago — remain a little bit rigid about their internal processes, both in terms of how they choose to staff matters, and how they want to bill.

We really don’t tolerate rigidity when it comes to an engagement. We want firms that show us different ways we can get to our desired outcome — different ways to staff, different ways to build. We’re open to sharing upside in the right circumstance with a firm, if that were to make sense.

The third thing I would highlight, beyond teaming and flexibility, is predictability. Nobody likes surprise, so we want to have a constant dialogue around potential outcomes.

And of course we also value predictability in terms of expense. We’re not looking to shave every last penny off of the legal bill. We’re looking for good results in the kind of approach that I described, but we do look for predictability in terms of the estimate, and the budget.

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