How much do general counsel push their law firms to open offices, form practice groups, merge, etc.?

It is common to read that law firms have merged, opened an office, or started a specialty area because of “client demand.” For sure, some general counsel may have urged a partner to do something to match the changing needs of that client, and perhaps eventually the firm obliged. But I doubt any frequency of cause and effect.

My vote goes to a more firm-centered, less client-service explanation. Firms make a strategic move, such as the above or bringing in a group of laterals, because the firms believe it will strengthen them in the market, the entire market, not because it will pleases the claimed clamoring of clients.

It sounds much better to implement an associate training program because “our clients have asked us to stay on the forefront of specialized legal training,” but only the decision makers can know if the real motivation was otherwise. It is high-minded, professional and accommodating to announce the new environmental conservation drive “in response to the many urgings we have had from our clients.” Who doesn’t admire the exemplary motivation and look past the grubbier possibilities?

A firm’s leadership wants to gild its actions in nobility and responsiveness, when it serves their purposes. Cherchez the optics, politics, and marketing!

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