Long ago I took the position that it belittles an in-house lawyer to have to obtain approval before retaining outside counsel. If you are mature enough as a lawyer to handle a legal problem, you should be mature enough to know when you need outside support and how to manage that firm (See my post of July 18, 2006: cost control through prior approvals to hire outside counsel.).
Maybe yes, maybe no. At Motorola, according to a panelist from its legal department who spoke at the SuperConference, “approval is required to open all new matters with outside counsel.” They view it as a healthy opportunity to assure themselves that the expense is justified. An intermediate position would be to require approval if the expected expenditure on the matter exceeds a certain threshold, something like approval levels for invoices.