Recently, the general counsel of two different legal departments have described their departments’ practice to send law firms an engagement letter for each matter. I scratch my head and wonder how that benefits the department (See my post of Feb. 20, 2007: engagement letters with 5 references.). Scratching in vain, I recommend doing away with the tradition.
To abolish engagement letters is not to abolish the obligation to send the partner documents and matter-specific information. Outside counsel must have what they need to do the job. Email and scanned documents can often and easily do that. What’s abolished is the template letter – inevitably revised by individuals and practice groups – with its standard recitation of expectations and obligations, all of which should be covered by outside counsel guidelines. If your department has a “master service agreement” in place with a law firm, viz., an outside counsel guideline agreed to by the firm, there should be no need for any other formal correspondence of retention.
Pedant and word-junkie that I am, my final chirp is that law firms send engagement letters, law departments send retention letters. The two terms are muddled completely.