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Three dubious quotes from a consultant: law firm control, commodity work and procurement’s involvement

Consultant Jeffrey Brandt in Law Tech. News, Nov. 2010, at 30, gives three reasons why Richard Susskind’s message of change is “finally hitting the windshield of firm leaders.” Metaphorically in synch, my reaction to each is to squash his impressions.

“Law firms no longer can control how they will interact with their clients.” I think Brandt means that in-house counsel instruct law firms much more these days so law firms have lost their edge. To a point, I agree. I do not agree that law firms have lost control. For the largest say in how they provide services, law firms remain very much in the saddle. They choose the staff, they decide on the order and level of work, they shape the strategy, and they produce deliverables. Only at the edges and only with constant exertion do in-house lawyers alter the traditional flow law-firm-determined work.

Second, “the kinds and types of work that is viewed as commodity is expanding.”. Always, I counter, legal services have shifted down the spectrum from bespoke and creative to standardized and commoditized to the eventual point where the work doesn’t even need lawyers. Title searches, notarization, much of workers’ comp, and ISDA agreements come to mind. He cites e-discovery services as molting in this way. Brandt does not intend to say that the pace of this familiar transition is picking up, I suspect. If he makes much of a process underway for years and years, then we are at no inflection point.

Third “the controller of services is changing… Negotiation for legal fees now involves corporate buyers…” Indeed, sourcing pros have teamed with inside lawyers here and there to improve competitive bid processes, but I am dubious that more than very rare instances have occurred where procurement professionals on their own negotiate the terms of payment to law firms for services other than the most commoditized.