If a favored law firm possesses specialized depth of knowledge, a department might negotiate a retainer agreement. Under such an agreement, some or all the department’s lawyers can call the firm with questions in a defined area. For example, FCPA compliance, anti-trust, bankruptcy, or export/import complexities might do well for a fill-your-plate arrangement. The cost of that telephonic advice would be fixed and paid in equal monthly installments.
The underlying idea is that the firm’s experts can answer nearly all the questions quickly, without research or writing. If the issue is bigger, the firm probably gets first crack at handling it. The department solves episodic needs that don’t support a full-time lawyer or even a subject matter expert (See my post of Jan. 7, 2009: retainer agreements to let your lawyers call a firm whenever they want.).