Three reasons why law departments don’t change their ways of working with external firms

People bang on about why it is hard for a law firm to re-orient itself away from piling up billable hours, relying on old technology, not unbundling services handled better and cheaper by others, and so on in the litany of changes resisted.

Law departments, too, move very slowly. Only if the general counsel solidly and clearly and repeatedly goads a new attitude toward outside law firms is it likely the entire department will change its march. Individual lawyers, even those who head large groups like litigation or intellectual property, can only do so much to alter the traditional dance between firm and department.

A second reason why new practices have not transformed law departments is that most practitioners inside spend only a smallish part of their working hours supervising law firms. Aside from litigation managers, most of the attention of inside attorneys focuses on issues on their desk, not with outside law firms. The urgency for external change is muted.

And third, deep down many lawyers in-house want to spend liberally on the law firms they select and guide, and don’t want to jeopardize in any way results less favorable than the firm can produce – dollars be damned! If your career depends more on pleasing clients and accomplishing results than on saving money, you won’t be too enthusiastic about newfangled notions like RFPs, fixed fees, budgets, bill review and staffing controls. Compensation and careers are to partners as compensation and careers are to in-house lawyers.

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