Faithfulness to key partners at a law department’s primary firms is a hallmark of most law departments (See my posts of June 13, 2006 and Oct. 4, 2005: loyalty to primary firms and fearful myths of partners; July 30, 2005: fear of losing the department’s favored firms; May 4, 2005: supposed statistics about loyalty; and March 6, 2007: loyalty to firms.).
Some people attribute loyalty to the avoidance of negative repercussions, such as how disruptive it is to replace a firm (See my post of July 21, 2006: issues when you to replace a firm.). The upset caused by change is so high that few lawyers in law departments abandon their primary law firms unless another firm holds out promise of being substantially better. To fire a law firm is an unusual decision (See my post of Feb. 19, 2007: firing law firms and 8 references.)
At the same time, forces work against long-term relations. Some believe that lateral mobility of partners erodes client loyalty (See my post of March 11, 2007: implication that attachment of department is to firm.) while others blame the trend toward panels of law firms (See my post of June 9, 2007: panels contribute to breakdown of loyalty.).
I think long-term allegiance to a law firm developments and holds for positive reasons – lawyers in the department like the people of the firm, the services they deliver, and their value proposition (See my post of June 13, 2006: partner becomes linchpin; and Jan. 4, 2008: relatively few “first instructions.”). As well, broader forces bind firms and clients together, such as conflicts of interest (See my post of April 20, 2008: conflicts of interest narrow the list of contender firms.). To the same effect, however far a law department converges its firms, the stickiness of the remaining firms is likely to rise.