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Reactionary-conservative-middle of the road-liberal-radical: political labels to describe views on outside counsel management

Beliefs of general counsel regarding how best to relate to outside law firms vary enormously. Those ideologies, I submit somewhat puckishly, could be characterized with the well-known spectrum of political ideologies. Let me sketch my sense of the matchups.

Reactionary general counsel favor turning back to days of yore when a few gentlemanly law firms handled everything of consequence, monopolized legal talent, eschewed sordid marketing, sent “services rendered” statements every now and then, and didn’t change partners from year to year. Tradition, loyalty, don’t rock the boat…

Conservative general counsel use more firms but still defend hourly billing, bow to decisions by the partner as to whom to staff, keep their in-house lawyers churning through basic legal services, reluctantly invest in matter management software, and review bills in hardcopy — sometimes.

Middle of the roaders – moderates with belief systems in the middle of current thinking – view their own staff and their retained lawyers as co-equals, try to be good stewards of corporate funds for outside counsel, push for incremental improvements, but for the most part feel pretty good about the “way things are.”

Liberals agitate for more change and venture at times into the marketplace with RFPs, push for deeper discounts, intervene in how law firms provide legal services to them, tinker with their outside counsel guidelines, embrace e-billing, and even consider performance benchmarks.

Radical general counsel hold forth on panels, plunge into new technologies, like virtual deal rooms, innovate and welcome PR, proselytize for offshoring or fixed-fees, team with fellow travelers in law firms to break new ground. They see turnover of law firms as salutary and scatter terms like “sea change,” “transformation,” and “revolution.”

Politics, a sage quipped, is the art of the possible, and in the world of general counsel, each of these value systems is entirely possible.

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