A term I learned consulting to an aerospace company’s law department – “competimates” – captures the duality of law departments competing with law firms. A company could outsource much or all of its legal work to external counsel, or could bring work inside, so law firms have to pick up their tents and steal away.
Both sides jockey for advantage (compete to handle work) while they simultaneously build loyalty and institutional knowledge (mate). through such measures as reducing the number of firms paid the majority of the fees.
Competitive partners may be an oxymoron, but as in business with its joint initiatives with erstwhile opponents, that is the reality of these Janus relationships between law departments and law firms. Departments and firms look ahead to close and profitable collaboration, while at the same time glance over their shoulders at the risks of losing jobs to the other (See my post of May 1, 2005 about the dark side of partnering.).