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More research on what law department lawyers say they value when they select firms

Georgetown University Law Center’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession coordinated yet another highly successful conference last week. Among the wide-ranging presentations about trends in the delivery of corporate legal services that Professor Mitt Regan and his colleagues hosted, one featured Lisa Hart, the CEO of Acritas, who shared research data on why law departments retain specific law firms.

The leading reason, chosen by 77% of hundreds of general counsel surveyed, was “Expertise.” Not just brains, Hart stressed, but substantive legal depth. Next came “Service” at 44%, “Relationship” at 29%, “International” in the sense of offices around the world where it mattered at 15%, with “Business Savvy” and “Price” at 14% and 13% respectively at the end.

None of the findings shock and awe us but some points stand out. If the partner doesn’t know her stuff, all the icing doesn’t matter, by almost two to one. Delivery of good work product on time, on the mark and on the budget – Service – makes complete sense as grounds for feeling good about a firm. I am surprised at “International’s” high ranking, and it was the only one to rise over the past several years Hart mentioned, but the score may be due to Acritas’ selection of chief legal officers to survey more than the overall importance to law departments of global coverage. Knowledge of the business seems a bit low, but often external counsel are hired for what they know of the law, not the client. And, as usual, quality of legal service far outweighs economy of cost.

A coda. What people list as their priorities sometimes belies what they do as their actual decisions.