Law department intervention: over-reaching and asking too much of law firms — Part III

When is it unfair for law departments to force changes on the operations of law firms they retain? This is the third of a series of posts on this question (See my posts of Jan. 10, 2008 on legitimate requests by legal departments of all law firms; and Jan. 10, 2008 on requests that are fair only for primary law firms.).

If a law department demands too much from a law firm, the firm can decline to represent it (See my posts of Nov. 27, 2007 about law firms dropping large clients; and Dec. 19, 2006 on the tradeoff between tight management and the quality of law firm advice.). The marketplace will sort out what’s asked for that is beyond the pale. Moreover, general counsel are often loathe to provoke their trusted firms with what the general counsel perceive as niggling or unjustified demands (See my posts of Oct. 4, 2005 about loyalty; and July 30, 2005 about fear of losing the department’s favored firms.).

Even so, law departments keep pushing the frontier of intervention in law firm operations further and further. Some of the impositions, I feel, have gone too far. My own catalogue of instances where law departments ask too much includes the following dozen plus.

1. Evaluate the performance and influence the promotion of individual law-firm lawyers (See my post of Nov. 15, 2005.).
2. Restrict heavy-handedly the addition to core teams of extra lawyers (See my post of Feb. 4, 2007.).
3. Force work into imposed staffing models (See my post of Nov. 21, 2005.).
4. Insist that only associates with more than a certain number of years of experience work on matters (See my posts of Nov. 8, 2005; and Nov. 19, 2007.).
5. Seek disclosure of total billable hours of lawyers who work on their matters (See my post of Oct. 20, 2005.).
6. Demand non-billable project managers on major cases or matters (See my post of Aug. 22, 2006.).
7. Demand most-favored-nation billing terms (See my posts of Oct. 30, 2005; Nov. 21, 2005; and Jan. 25, 2006 on difficulties with MFN terms.).
8. Freeze billing rate for years (See my post of April 26, 2006.).
9. Seek real-time billing information (See my post of May 19, 2006 on law departments’ disinterest in this.).
10. Request metrics on other company’s matters, even if the data is redacted (See my post of Oct. 6, 2006.).
11. Ask firms to have more diversity among their lawyers who work on the client’s matters than the client has in its own law department (See my posts of Jan. 14, 2007; and Jan. 4, 2008.).
12. Swallow too many internal costs (See my post of Dec. 19, 2006 on flat fees for online research costs.).
13. Require disclosure of conflicts of interest that are potential or related to business issues (See my post of July 16, 2007 and references cited on conflicts.).
14. Force firms to accept or turn down pro bono undertakings of certain kinds (See my post of Dec. 3, 2006.).
15. Impose environmentally friendly actions (See my post of April 27, 2007 regarding environmental sensibilities.).

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