BUSINESS OF LAW
office phone at his home in the event such an emergency arises.
Typically, Bell’s nonstop day begins at 5: 50 a.m., when he spends 20
minutes reading e-mails and “getting a lay of the land” before dropping
his kids off at school and heading, first, to his firm’s northern Virginia location, then on to its Washington, D.C., offices later in the day. Waiting
for him are requests for proposals to draft, company profiles to prepare
and lawyers to be coached.
“I walk the halls and talk to lawyers,” Bell says. “I’m always asking:
Did they follow up with that letter, set that appointment; what’s going
on; what are they trying to do? A big part of the job is to figure out where
are the opportunities.”
He also uses his accounting contacts to set up his own meetings, often
being the first point of contact between the firm and a potential client.
BELL IS QUICK TO NOTE “THERE IS NO NONLAWYER SELLING LEGAL SERVICES
by him- or herself.” Instead, Bell’s role is to initiate new relationships and
to help Womble Carlyle’s lawyers stay in them long enough to bear fruit.
Bell and Millen agree that clients have no problem with a closer in the
room. “That’s one of the funny things,“ Millen says. “Clients understood
it typically much more readily than the lawyers did. [Other lawyers]
thought if you walked into a meeting and said, ‘Hi, here is our sales di-
rector,’ a trapdoor opens and you’re cast into a
fiery furnace. The clients we deal with all under-
stand and recognize the importance of having one.”
Bell accompanies lawyers to their own client
meetings. “I’m a different set of eyes and ears.
I’m the one who insists the lawyers not spend so
much time talking about their pedigrees, but lis-
ten and understand what clients need and want.”
One major difference for Bell between the accounting world and the legal profession is con-flicts.“You can’t believe the heartaches I have
had because of conflicts,” he says. “Going well
down the pathway of pursuing a nonclient to a
client, thinking I have a piece of business, and
then the lawyer reminds you to do a confidentiality check.” Bell now works closely with the firm’s
chief ethics officer and runs conflicts checks early
on in a campaign.
A second adjustment was the switch from the winner-take-all battles
among a handful of accounting firms to the case-by-case assignments
typical of the legal profession.
“In auditing, one firm walks away with the business,” Bell says. “You
had a one-in-six chance of winning. What is very interesting about the legal environment is that legal budgets can be bifurcated, trifurcated. It’s
possible for a GC to hire a single lawyer for a matter on a test basis and
then expand on a case-by-case basis.”
Bell and his team are paid a salary and get “a shot at an incentive pool.”
Though they can’t get commissions for each closing, which could be interpreted as fee-splitting, they are evaluated on the number of deals they
develop and their level of participation.
With the struggling economy, “sales of legal services have dried up,”
Bell says. As a result, his team, which expanded by one salesperson each
year for the past five years, has reached a plateau.
But the legal profession’s first director of sales can’t say he’s worried
about the future. “I don’t really think about the future much,” Bell says.
“I come to work every day and I work as hard as I can. It’s a new ball-game every day.” ■
if you walked into
a meeting and
said, ‘Hi, here is
our sales director,’
a trapdoor opens
and you’re cast
into a fiery furnace. The clients
we deal with all
Tool against ‘trolls’
BOTHERED BY “PATENT TROLLS,”
those pesky creatures who wait
for inventions to hit the market
and then cry, “I’ve got your patent;
now pay me”? John Amster says he
has a solution.
Amster, an intellectual property
lawyer, is a co-founder of RPX Corp.
in San Francisco, which buys up
patents. For a fee, subscribers get access to all the patents in its portfolio.
“We provide a patent-defense
aggregation service,” he says. “We
buy a significant volume of patent
actual or po-
that will be
get a license to
RPX, open for business since
September, boasts IBM, Cisco
Systems and Epson as clients.
How does RPX know which patents are relevant to clients? “If
something’s on the market being
shopped by patent brokers and they
come to us with a write-up of why
your products are infringing on it,
that’s a pretty good indication,”
In January the firm entered a li-
cense agreement with patent port-
folio holder Acacia Research Corp.
RPX said some defendants in a pa-
tent suit Acacia filed could get out
of the suit by signing up with RPX.
The cost of membership depends,
Amster says, on a company’s revenue.
Scott C. Harris, an intellectual
property lawyer in Rancho Santa Fe,
Calif., says RPX’s business model
may have legs.
“RPX is approaching the nonpracticing entity issue from a new
angle,” Harris says. “Overall, this
[approach] can reduce the costs to
companies caused by their infringement of patents of others. If the
model can work, it’s a win-win.”