For its “Management Report 2006,” Team Factors Ltd., working together with the Corporate Lawyers Association of New Zealand, collected data from 102 New Zealand corporations. In a summary of the report (at 7) appears this disturbing statement: “Only 21% of respondents considered their lead law firm ‘clearly better’ than its nearest and best competitor. The remainder considered that other firms could do most or all of the legal work equally well as their current firm.” That percentage seems to be an indictment of most law firms. But I think not.
If the comparison is between the lead law firm and the law firm closest to it in reputation and ability (“its nearest and best competitor”), then by definition there is unlikely to be a gaping difference. If you move down a level to compare a particular lead partner to that partner’s clone at another firm, the same would hold true. Even so the trauma of change is so high that few lawyers in law departments would abandon their lead law firm unless another firm were substantially better (See my posts of Feb. 7, 2007 on some reasons for firing firms; and June 13, 2006 and Oct. 4, 2005 about loyalty to primary firms.).
Firms have widely different levels of experience and bench strength within practice groups, and the differences there belie fungibility (See my posts of Aug. 24, 2006 on regional law firms and a view of fungible legal talent; Oct. 4, 2005 and myths held by law firms of their uniqueness.).