To clarify two contributions of outside counsel: specialized expertise vs. assistance with complexity

A recent survey of in-house counsel, reported in Deloitte’s Global Corporate Counsel Report 2011 at 17, gave the three most common responses when they were asked to specify why they retained outside counsel: “Need for greater specialist expertise,” “need for additional legal resources,” and “complexity of the legal work.” Far more chose expertise (80%) than chose complexity (48%), and I wondered what explains the difference.

It could be that in-house lawyers read “expertise” as the outside lawyer’s deep knowledge of a specific legal domain. “Chris knows everything about Ohio environmental procedures,” or “Jean has years of experience with zoning restrictions in Florida.” Expertise connotes pinpoint knowledge of an area of law and its practice.

Whereas it could be that “complexity” has different connotations. The term conjures up the need to combine multiple legal domains, which few outside lawyers can do and is more the forte of the inside lawyer who coordinates outside specialists. To build a shopping center requires tax advice, real estate nous, construction-law depth, and perhaps labor knowledge. To hire outside counsel with all that ability would be quite hard, so the ranking for this reason was lower.

The remaining five reasons, chosen much less frequently than the top three, were “need for independent advice,” “distribution of risk,” “to maintain legal professional privilege,” “to draw on connections of law firm,” and “building commercial/reciprocal” [referrals, I think].

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