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Exegesis on the Covenant with Counsel (Part III)

My previous comments about the ACC Covenant with Counsel addressed those eight commitments that are symmetric (See my post of April 25, 2009: reciprocal undertakings in the Covenant.) and six unilateral commitments that ought to be bilateral (See my post of April 25, 2009: asymmetrical undertakings in the ACC Covenant.).

The set of 33 covenants present several other points to ponder.

1) “Understand our relationship is built on mutual trust; unless we tell you otherwise, we don’t need or want a “no stones unturned” approach (Client 1). This is the only covenant that has two parts, the first about trust being fundamental, the second about thoroughness being secondary.

2) Cost-effective representation underlies several commitments of law firms:

a) “Use the most appropriate staffing and tell you if we don’t have the needed expertise” (Firm 3);
b) “Seek to reduce our costs creatively and constantly, and share those savings with you” (Firm 8);
c) “Understand that you seek neither elegance, new law, nor perfection unless these provide value consistent with your company’s objectives” (Firm 7);
d) “Never ‘reinvent the wheel;’ we will look first to past work product and encourage efficiency and continuous improvement” (Firm 11); and
e) “Understand our relationship is built on mutual trust; unless we tell you otherwise, we don’t need or want a “no stones unturned” approach (Client 1).

3) “Recommend your firm to other companies and potential clients” (Client 12). At the least, this assurance by clients should add a phrase, “assuming your services have satisfied us.”

4) “Seek arrangements with our other service suppliers to lower our costs” (Client 13). This commitment sticks out. The Covenant states no counterpart undertaking by law firms, such as to use offshore resources or temporary staff or specialty vendors. Second, there is no necessary relationship between efforts by law departments to find other suppliers of law related services – which could include other law firms – and how a law department treats an individual firm. Third, other service providers might improve quality or speed, not simply reduce costs.

5) “Help nurture an enduring relationship with the firm, not just individual lawyers” (Client 14). This statement comes down on one side of the debate: is it better to hire the firm or hire the lawyer. I do not think it is appropriate to flatly side with the hire the firm philosophy (See my post of April 16, 2009: incumbent firms with 11 references.).

6) “Continue our commitment to pro bono and diversity activities” (Firm 15) – note that this covenant presumes that the law firm is already committed to pro bono and diversity activities – but what about other worthy causes such as environmental improvements or social responsibility?