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A qualitative difference, perhaps, between an inside hour and an outside hour

Observers of the legal industry make much about the gap between the costs per hour of inside lawyers and the cost per hour of outside counsel. This blogger, indeed, has raised his pen in that debate (See my post of Aug. 27, 2008: fully-loaded cost per lawyer hour with 31 references.). The discussion assumes that hours worked on both sides of the fence are equivalent. Certainly each has 60 minutes, but it is much less certain the legal issues handled during the hours are similar.

Making a very broad generalization, I would say that law department lawyers generally handle the kinds of legal tasks that arise with some regularity. Their counterparts outside tend to swing into action when there is a more specialized, unusual issue — other than for litigation that has its own set of constraints and massive matters which require masses of troops. Setting aside those two exceptions, is it accurate to say that one hour on the inside matches one hour outside — where lawyers are the same number of years out of law school – as judged by legal complexity and sophistication?

Probably not, in the main, but that doesn’t resolve the debate.