Can in-house counsel distinguish between quality and mediocre law firms? (Dec. 20, 2005

A summary of comments by 43 law-firm managing partners of law firms on the topic of “burning issues” (Of Counsel, Vol. 24, Nov. 2005 at 8), contained a quote from one who heads a firm of more than 500 lawyers.

“[C]lients really can’t distinguish between quality and mediocrity. Thus, we invest in quality, which means investing in providing leading compensation packages, a commitment to diversity and pro bono, time spent on professional development, and then few clients even know the difference.”

Law department lawyers, presumably “clients,” by all means assert that they can tell a first-rate firm from a second rater. Their judgment, however, does not take into account the firm’s pay scale, CLE efforts, or commitment to those who can’t afford lawyers. No, their judgments depend mostly on delivered, practical experience, business shrewdness, institutional knowledge of the client, responsiveness, and the scarcity of digits on invoices. Outputs matter; the infrastructure and inputs that the quoted managing partner holds so dear matter little.

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