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In-house managers of firms should focus on cost, not “relationship”; three issues

Some law departments assign to each of their primary law firms a senior lawyer, one who should strive for better ways of working between department and firm, better connections across multiple users of the firm, fresh initiatives, pursuit of quality and value improvements.

To call that lawyer a “relationship manager” sounds too conciliatory, too unwilling to make hard calls, too nicey-nicey. Inside lawyers who look after a particular firm should not be striving particularly for smooth relationships, all fuzzy and warm; instead, their objective is to obtain solid value for the amount spent on legal services. The lawyer’s goal is not camaraderie of cross-buying (the counterpart of a law firm’s cross-selling) in the sense of using more lawyers at the firm (See my post of Feb. 20, 2009: cross-selling by law firm partners with 7 references.). No, the goal is to honcho costs and the risk is co-option.

If you hold in-house lawyers who oversee primary firms to a budget, that complicates the lawyer’s life significantly. Other lawyers in the department may also use the firm, which creates complexities for the in-house cost manager who doesn’t supervise them.

A third issue: If the lawyer (more appropriately called “Cost Manager”) also handles matters the firm works on, roles can blur. It’s hard one moment to push the rock up the hill shoulder to shoulder with a partner and then to switch, turn on her, and harangue her about associate turnover or work product quality.