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Nowhere near a discipline, management of in-house lawyers will take time to achieve coherence

Much as I admire and have learned from Stephen H. Kellert, Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning Across Disciplines (Univ. Chic. 2008), it leaves me doubtful that even in the mid-term there will be recognized, encompassing principals of law department management. Nothing like “laws” exist, in the sense of reliable if-then statements along the lines of “Reduce the number of law firms you retain by 30% and you will reduce law firm fees paid by 40%.”. Best practices are a fractious collection of subjective beliefs. We can’t even argue solidly for linear relationships, such as years worked in-house improves the quality of a lawyer’s services. The crucial output of inside lawyers remains significantly and stubbornly immeasurable.

Mine is no counsel of despair, not managerial relativism or nihilism, far from throwing in the towel. Indeed, despite the disarray of the field, it is my strong belief that those who direct legal teams can make poor decisions, conversely with learning and practice they can improve their oversight, and for both mistakes and adeptness we have justifiable reasons to make those assessments. The quest for a scientific understanding of management, even in the tiny sphere of law departments, may be for the foreseeable future unrequited, but that does not in the slightest mean we can’t get better and gradually accumulate more useful experience and pragmatic insight.

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One response to “Nowhere near a discipline, management of in-house lawyers will take time to achieve coherence”

  1. I suspect one reason why a “scientific understanding” of law department management may be so elusive is because there are so many variables. No two companies are exactly alike, and hence no two law departments will be either. Some law departments will be larger, and by reason of the sheer number may require more management tools or more of a concerted effort than if the department were smaller and therefore easier to manage. Some companies will require in-house attorneys that have specific specialties and some may just need a few attorneys with more general broad-based experience. For example, a financial services company may need people with banking or securities experience as well as someone with expertise in contracts and even employment law. Other companies will need IP attorneys. Some of the management of the department might therefore depend on what the in-house attorneys are actually doing in-house. In some cases a smaller company may get by with just one in-house counsel (that is my situation) and then the challenge is either juggling many balls at once or making sure not to refer too much to outside counsel, thereby generating more (and sometimes) unnecessary outside counsel fees.
    I guess what I am driving at is that there is no one size fits all approach.