It is sound management for a legal department to insist that its primary firms designate a core group of lawyers who will bill most of the fees on a matter. That core-staff notion has ample intuitive appeal.
What’s needed are some operational guidelines. One way to establish a core team for a project is to anticipate the plausible billings on the matter and scale the size of the team to that figure. For example, if the matter is likely to cost $100,000 or less, a core team of one partner and one associate might be expected to bill 75 percent of the time on the matter. If the matter is likely to cost $250,000 to $500,000, the core team might reasonable expand by another associate or two and a paralegal. This approach to setting core staff dovetails nicely with obtaining budgets from firms.
By that kind of rough estimation scaled to budgeted fees, a department can more easily assess the staffing recommended by the law firm (See my post of July 17, 2008: core team II with 11 references and citations to 7 earlier.).