Abolish engagement letters (aka retention letters) from law departments

Recently, the general counsel of two different legal departments have described their departments’ practice to send law firms an engagement letter for each matter. I scratch my head and wonder how that benefits the department (See my post of Feb. 20, 2007: engagement letters with 5 references.). Scratching in vain, I recommend doing away with the tradition.

To abolish engagement letters is not to abolish the obligation to send the partner documents and matter-specific information. Outside counsel must have what they need to do the job. Email and scanned documents can often and easily do that. What’s abolished is the template letter – inevitably revised by individuals and practice groups – with its standard recitation of expectations and obligations, all of which should be covered by outside counsel guidelines. If your department has a “master service agreement” in place with a law firm, viz., an outside counsel guideline agreed to by the firm, there should be no need for any other formal correspondence of retention.

Pedant and word-junkie that I am, my final chirp is that law firms send engagement letters, law departments send retention letters. The two terms are muddled completely.

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