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An attempt to quiet two mantras: “Hire the firm, not the partner” and “Don’t blame me, I hired Prestige Firm X”

In an article in Strategies: The J. of Legal Marketing, Vol. 11, Aug. 2009 at 5, Susan Hackett of the ACC says that law firms participating in the ACC Value Challenge seek to “turn two long-time in-house mantras on their head:”

“No one ever got fired for hiring [Insert Admired Firm]” is the first mantra. The ACC can’t overturn this deep psychological barrier by fiat or caucuses. The elite firms that enjoy this cachet, who by their reputation alone ward off evil from those who pay their fees, who have become brand names in the households of Directors, deserve their exalted rank. The value they are perceived to deliver transcends the economics of their fees (See my post of May 23, 2007: well-known firms hired to CYA.). It makes me wonder whether wannabe firms are flocking to this effort.

The second mantra, also suspect in ACC’s eyes, is “Hire the lawyer and not the firm.” I am on record that in-house lawyers mostly retain individual partners, not disembodied firms. A human brain and personality, not an abstract institution, makes the difference to clients, and correctly so. It’s a firm handshake and a firm brochure. Humans are high touch, firms out of touch. Only in very complex or large assignments might firm resources tip the scales against the partner focus.

As to the second mantra, the firm-over-the-partner view, and the objective to upend it, one of Hackett’s arguments is that “you can’t expect firms to make such drastic changes and assume risk if there is no commitment to the firm.” I think they had better.