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Regarding fees anticipated for expensive projects, the CFO as bad cop and the GC as good cop

An article in the ACC Docket, May 2011 at 58, suggests that law departments might enlist some support when they negotiate fees with firms on major matters. As stated, “Consider whether to have your CFO meet with M&A counsel to discuss anticipated legal fees.” The authors suggest that the CFO might be more able to put the “hammer down” for cost controls.

The underlying assumption bothers me. If the general counsel can’t take a tough but fair stand on external counsel costs, if the responsible inside lawyer doesn’t know more than the CFO about incentives and drivers of cost and value to be delivered by a law firm, if the in-house legal team can’t craft a suitable billing arrangement, how can a finance person do better? It’s shades of procurement and “we can help you negotiate even if we know nothing about law.”