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Are general counsel of moderate-size departments personally involved in half the choices of law firms?

Cheryl Solomon, general counsel of the Gucci Group, leads a team of 30 lawyers and paralegals worldwide. I interviewed her recently about a number of management topics. One was my belief that general counsel only occasionally get involved with retentions of external counsel. So I asked about her situation (See my post of May 30, 2005: GCs often not part of firm selection; and April 4, 2008: GC’s limited role in firm selection.).

“About once a year I travel to meet my inside counsel and review with them the big ticket matters and get a feel for them and the firms they are using,” she said. “Otherwise, if they think I ought to know about a firm selection, they come and discuss it with me.” Or if they feel she has some knowledge of the firms that might be chosen, e.g., litigation, they will solicit her views. Sometimes she and her team have ongoing discussions about whether they are using the right firm for a particular matter.

Solomon pointed out that “A lot of my reports report to me functionally, not directly, so I could not easily mandate which counsel to use or to change counsel.” Gucci Group is a very decentralized company so sometimes it is hard to know what is a retention of counsel, e.g., trademark agents or firms just for anti-counterfeiting work. Do they each count as a retention?” Also, since “I do plenty of hands on work, I choose counsel for what I work on although, often, we have developed long-term relationships with certain lawyers in particular specialties.”

In the end, after explaining these various factors, Solomon ventured that “it could be at least half the time” that she is involved in the choice of which firm is retained, at some level.

One estimate does not a benchmark make, obviously, so I will continue beyond this data point. I am sure, still, that the larger the department, the smaller the percentage of CLO involvement.