Published on:

Pros and cons of an in-house lawyer responsible for relations with a primary law firm

Dialectics appeal to me; the push and pull of opposing views exists all the time on any practice worth a discussion. So in that spirit let me present both sides of the decision to charge a lawyer in a legal department with responsibility for the department’s non-substantive dealings with a law firm (a “responsible lawyer”), starting with the positive side (See my post of May 18, 2007: inside counterpart to relationship partner appointed for each major firm.).

  1. When there is a single point of contact, the firm’s lawyers who work on matters for the client know whom they should call if there is a relationship problem (as compared to a substantive legal issue about a specific matter).

  2. A general counsel can assign these roles, to be responsible lawyers, as developmental steps for subordinates.

  3. These responsibilities spread awareness of outside counsel spend and the challenges of directing counsel.

  4. The relationship lawyer can give feedback to the firm without jolting harmonious ways of working between individuals.

  5. The responsible in-house lawyer has the best overall view to evaluate the performance of the firm.

As with all practices, someone can legitimately criticize the negative sides of responsible lawyers.

  1. The responsibility brings with it too little authority. How much difference can the responsible lawyer make?

  2. A responsible lawyer has to pay at least some attention to matters outside his or her area of expertise.

  3. The role burdens the lawyer with administrative tasks.

  4. Marketing efforts by the firm, notably cross selling, have a clear target, which may further burden the responsible attorney.

  5. The lawyer may have no particular aptitude for the role or desire to do it (See my post of Aug. 22, 2006: the Peter Principal.).

  6. The responsible lawyer might lose some detachment and become a champion for his or her firm. Over time, the objectivity may diminish and decisions about the firm, such as to drop them or expand their role, become personalized, a reflection on the responsible lawyer.

  7. The general counsel has to choose which firms deserve (are saddled with?) a responsible lawyer.

  8. The general counsel has to decide how long each responsible lawyer remains in that role (See my post of April 8, 2005: replacing an administrator with rotating lawyers.).

Despite the arguments opposed to the practice being more numerous, I favor the selective use of the responsible lawyer role.