Why we don’t hear about knowledge transfer from law firms to law departments

No one in law departments makes much of training provided to them by outside counsel. Firms sometimes offer CLE credits to law departments who attend their training sessions. A few firms offer access to precedent databases. But real training, purposefully showing the corporate lawyer how to do something, doesn’t come up.

An objective outsider could well say that training should be expected and significant, but many circumstances may explain the miniscule role. I offer seven possible rationales.

Partners at law firms don’t want to surrender their intellectual capital – knowledge is power (to charge high fees). Law departments don’t want to pay astronomical hourly rates for training which may never be needed. Outside counsel don’t know how to train others and are not rewarded for doing so. Inside lawyers learn by doing, so law firms may believe there is no need to make a big deal about formal training. Outside counsel mostly provide brute manpower, so legal training isn’t that important. The specialty legal questions shipped to outside firms are so esoteric that it doesn’t make sense to train formally. Inside lawyers are too swamped to learn deliberately. Sophisticated legal work is mostly tacit knowledge, learned by watching an artisan at work, not explicit knowledge checked off from a cookbook.

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