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Nine myths held by some in-house lawyers about their management of law firms

Caution: a sharp-elbow post! The following assumptions, cherished beliefs in fact, addle the minds of quite a few in-house lawyers. I tried to list them according to their perniciousness, but that is too hard to do. Furthermore, the more informative speculation might be how frequently the illusions exist and warp behavior. All very pessimistic, I grant, but it is helpful to try to confront and disabuse ourselves of what may be commonly-held delusions.

  1. “We choose firms based on merit.” With all the irrational impulses we are subject to, no one can believe that objectivity reins supreme (See my post of March 15, 2009: cognitive traps with 21 references.).

  2. “The law firm partners we have chosen are significantly better than other partners” (See my post of Aug. 24, 2006: many law firms are viewed as fungible; July 30, 2008: view that many services are commodity; and Nov. 17, 2008: only at high-level are firms seen as similar.).

  3. “We scrutinize the bills of outside counsel.” My doubts about this claim have been shared frequently on this blog (See my post of March 2, 2008: bill review with 25 references.).

  4. “We manage them closely.”

  5. “Their interests are aligned with our interests.” The prevailing sobriquet is “partnering” (See my post of Aug. 27, 2008: partnering between law firms and law departments, with 14 references.).

  6. “The partner leading our major matters runs a tight ship on them.”

  7. “Our key firms cherish the relationship and work hard to keep it vital and productive.” Some firms feel they own the relationship (See my post of Dec. 16, 2005: complacency among entrenched firms.).

  8. “Our billing arrangements are pretty aggressive.”

  9. “We are special in the eyes of our key law firms.” (See my post of Dec. 4, 2006: volume of fees makes the difference, not novelty or brand of client.).

For more on this topic, see my BLOOK on outside counsel management.