Myths cherished by law firms about law departments

Some lawyers in firms harbor mistaken notions about their law department clients. What follows is a sample:
“They see our firm as unique providers of high value work.” Bubble-burst: To most senior lawyers in law departments, many firms seem fungible, equally good at handling much of the work sent outside and virtually undistinguishable from each other.

“In-house lawyers are inferior, since they couldn’t make it at a law firm.” Bubble-burst: Many fine lawyers go in-house to avoid Sisyphean selling, to see Apollo (not just Stygian darkness) every now and then, and because the Achilles heel of external counsel is distance from the actual business.

“We make the tough calls.” Bubble-burst: Ultimately, the buck of decision making stops on a company desk, either the in-house lawyer who must thumb a possible action up or down, or a client of that in-house lawyer.

“Perfection is properly our goal.” Bubble-burst: Most of the time, 80 percent of the guidance at 20 percent of the cost would do just fine, thank you. No business decision can ever be rock-solid certain, so why do law firms think they can justifiably charge as much as possible to close the certainty gap just a bit?

“All clients care about is cost.” Bubble-burst: Law departments consistently rank knowledge of their business, responsiveness, team-orientation, and practical advice above cost. They follow the old adage, “Better a fair price for good service than a good price for fair service.”

“Loyalty is dead; one-off, transactional hiring rules.” Bubble-burst: Nearly all law departments stick with the partners they like, and even worry about the effects their cost-control initiatives might have on the firms they favor. Most departments concentrate most of their spending year after year on a handful of firms they have come to like and rely on.

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