Published on:

The synecdoche error of using “the XYZ firm” to describe a bundle of variant behaviors

A book review in the Admin. Sci. Q., Sept. 2003 at 525, praises Emmanuel Lazega, The collegial phenomenon: the social mechanisms of cooperation among peers in a corporate law partnership (Oxford 2001). The review raised the question for me of how sensible is it for lawyers in a legal department to think in terms of “the XYZ firm.” In-house counsel broadly and freely generalize – “the Morrison firm does this or that” – but using a term for lots of disparate parts may lead to erroneous thinking.

That unit of analysis, an entire law firm, may be far too broad. For example, if you reduce the number of law firms by half but triple the number of partners that your in-house counsel must deal with, that result erodes the presumed benefits of convergence. True, partners of the same firm should bill with/ consistent formats and methods, but that does not always hold true. A more insightful level of analysis might be the number of practice groups retained or even the number of partners paid. Firms are far from monolithic.