Do profits per equity partner factor in to the decisions of law departments about what firm to hire or on what terms?
I don’t think so.
What matters is whether the particular lawyer or set of lawyers retained can accomplish what the law department needs that the department is willing to pay. If the expected (and eventually, the actual) price is acceptable, then whether the firm produces gushing bonanzas each year or scrapes away just above insolvency matters not a jot (See my post of May 18, 2007 on profits per partner and intelligence; Nov. 24, 2005 on intervention by law departments in law firm operations; and July 20, 2005 on transparency of law firm profitability.).
It is possible, even likely, that high profits per partner alert law departments to expensive billing practices. Generally, like costly perfumes, expensiveness signals prestige and quality (See my post of May 23, 2007 on prestige of law firms.).