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Minor factors in selecting outside counsel – practice areas, diversity and national reach

From a recent, large-scale survey, reported in Inside Counsel, July 2007 at 61, I have little to quarrel with about the top four factors law departments chose on why they select the law firms they select: “quality of work” and “responsiveness” were tied at the top followed by “creative solutions.” I explored creative solutions earlier (See my post of July 19, 2007.). “Billing rates,” at number four, is reasonable, but the five factors below them trouble me.

“Provides preventive counseling” was ranked fifth, which seems strange (See my posts of July 14, 2005 and Dec. 19, 2005 on training clients.). Many outside counsel do not interact much with client employees who are not lawyers, and therefore have little opportunity to train and counsel to avoid problems. Preventive lawyering encroaches on the sweet-spot of inside counsel.

The sixth-ranked choice, “multiple practice areas,” puzzles me. Perhaps in-house counsel think that a multi-disciplinary group helps in large transactions. Perhaps there is latent desire for cross selling? Or is this an oblique proxy for size of law firm?

No, none of these reasons hold for the ranking of this choice. What is really at work here is that the final three choices were ranked lower, that’s all. Those laggards were “offers alternative fee arrangements,” “has a diversity program,” and “has national reach,” should not even be a choice. Footprint does not matter except possibly in defense of a wide-spread group of cases, and international legal services are even less likely to matter (See my post of March 19, 2006 on servicing most international legal needs from the United States.).

I note that something like “adequacy of staffing, bench-strength” was not one of the choices, nor was “knowledge of the company and its industry.” (See my posts of Dec. 8, 2006 on core teams; and Oct. 29, 2005 and March 10, 2007 industry knowledge by law firms.).