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Various comments from an IP litigation partner about law department behavior

A partner from an illustrious Midwest law firm sat next to me during a recent flight. He litigates IP cases for big stakes. We chatted and I quizzed him about topics that have to do with law departments and their interactions with outside counsel. A number of his comments deserve mention.

He said that his firm turns down two out of three cases of companies that come to it seeking representation. I was amazed, because selling work is the hardest part of many partners’ (and consultants’) jobs, and to have the luxury of picking and choosing makes me envious. On the other side, many general counsel must be disappointed. He did not say that conflicts of interest drove that low acceptance rate; it seems more that the firm wants to represent the right kinds of clients in big, winnable cases (See my post of Oct. 23, 2005 citing a figure of one out of three firms are conflicted out.).

This partner also said that his firm’s clear rule is to charge full rates; there are two committees that exist “to turn down requests for alternative billing,” he somewhat joked. Small wonder that alternative billing arrangements find little traction among well-known firms.

This partner thought a bit when I asked him about the worst things law departments can do when they hire outside counsel: “put inexperienced inside counsel in charge” was his considered response. Right after that comes the failure to make timely decisions; law firms too often are left uncertain what the client would want to do, but time, the tides, and court dockets wait for no man. It’s stating the obvious that veteran in-house counsel are more likely to make timely decisions.

Third, he mentioned “false economies of putting work off.” As to this complaint, I suspect there is not likely to be agreement inside.