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Match the firm to the matter, but are you willing to change early on?

Bucking the tide of convergence (See my post of April 2, 2006 on the Wilmington wave.), those law departments that try to match the cost/quality proposition of a law firm to a particular matter face one obvious difficulty. It may be very difficult to determine early on whether a new matter will present unusual difficulties that warrant a higher-price, more-skilled law firm. Just as early case assessment cannot always spot the right path forward in the early months of a law suit, so too the decision of this horse for that course may prove after the fact to have been off the track.

If so, law departments must come to terms with the possible decision around the bend to transfer a matter to either a more sophisticated law firm or to a capable, lower-cost firm (See my post of July 21, 2006 disputing the putative cost from transitioning a matter to a new firm.).

A third alternative, recognized by some, is to unite two law firms on the matter: one for its expensive brains, the other for its cheaper brawn (See my post of Dec. 3, 2006 on various meanings of “virtual” as applied to law firms.).