At the recent conference of Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, Lisa Hart, the CEO of Acritas, shared research data on why law departments retain the law firms they do. In the course of her remarks she said that Acritas has observed “an increasing focus on corporation-to-law-firm connection as compared to inside counsel to individual law firm partner.”
Since ultimately a human being speaks and gives counsel, I believe that most inside lawyers think in terms of a specific partner as their trusted advisor, not the incorporeal firm. But Hart makes a different, probably valid, point. If a law department chooses preferred counsel, it chooses firms and bases the relationship on each firm as a whole. If a law department intervenes in the firm’s delivery of services, be it with outside counsel guidelines or budgets or staffing constraints or tiered discounts, the interventions apply across the board at a firm. To the degree a law department needs coordinated services around the world or several legal disciplines to resolve a problem, it is the firm that is the locus, not any single partner.
So, with panels and management tools, as a consequence of legal complexity, global issues and volume discounts the leverage and negotiation rises to the firm-wide level, above any single partner in the firm.