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Thoughts on how many law firms an individual in-house lawyer can effectively manage

At a conference organized by Ark, an experienced Chief Operating Officer of a major legal department offered some ideas on how many law firms a lawyer can manage. One of his lawyers manages seven firms, “which I think is too many,” he said. More commonly in his department, the in-house lawyers who have matters where a law firm has been retained oversee two or three firms.

Let’s apply that estimate. Assume a US legal department with 100 lawyers. Of them, assume 75 percent manage outside counsel (See my post of May 21, 2008: Pareto and inside managers of law firms; and June 26, 2009: three-fourths of US in-house lawyers supervise at least one foreign law firm.). and those 75 lawyers oversee 2.5 firms on average. Clearly, some law firms work with more than one inside lawyer, so let’s assume the average is two distinct firms per oversight lawyer. That would leave 150 law firms to service the department (See my post of April 18, 2009: law firms hired by large law departments with 5 references.), which seems on the low side.