Putting a law firm “in the penalty box” for unsatisfactory work or relations

David Wilkins of Harvard Law School gave a presentation a couple of weeks ago where he used a memorable metaphor for a useful idea. Referring to the much greater frequency with which general counsel reduce the work going to a firm rather than terminating the firm, he puckishly drew on ice hockey: “they put the firm in the penalty box.”

It’s a good image – a check, a time-out, a shot-across-the-bow, a slap on the wrist – of how to signal discontent. Wilkins didn’t spell it out but the reason for turning the spigot to the right could be poor results, poor client relationships, poor management of matters, or simply pique.

Wilkins extended the point. In his view, the disenchantment and tangible effect of it, lower fees for a period of time or less choice assignments, chills not only the partner who was the culprit but also the larger practice group and indeed the entire firm. Firms might not be red-carded, but they may to cool their skates for a bit.

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