Nothing beats face-to-face. For developing trust, communicating effectively, absorbing the business and its culture, and sharing materials, less personal alternatives such as e-mail, phone, instant messaging, and fax pale in comparison. The law firm that can send a lawyer across the street for a meeting has a leg up on any distant firm (See my post of March 23, 2007 on proximity and knowledge exchange.).
True, much can be done remotely – especially after people have met at least once. But I would not be surprised if many law departments spend a third or more of their outside counsel dollars on law firms that have offices only a few minutes away. My book, Law Department Benchmarks: Myths, Metrics and Management (Glasser LegalWorks 2001), has a chart on percentage of dollars spent by proximity, which backs up this supposition, and I suspect that even in this age of ubiquitous telecommunications that the data on physical closeness still holds true.