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When to allow external counsel to work directly with internal clients

In the course of describing the relationship between NEC Corp. of America and Duane Morris, a firm chosen through a drastic convergence process (See my post of May 5, 2008: from 130 to 5 firms), an article mentions that one of Duane Morris’s employment partners “works closely with the HR department of NEC, generally communicating with them, rather than the attorneys in Legal.” Counsel to Counsel, May 28 at 5, adds that the law firm works to replicate such direct client interaction on every matter.

The general counsel, Gerry Kenny, subscribes to this unmediated legal counsel. “Outside counsel’s ability to work directly with businesspeople helps differentiate the relationship.”

I am of two minds of removing in-house counsel from management of the work of outside counsel. I like the idea because it is more efficient, clients probably favor it, and the law department focuses on its core competency and most useful contributions. I don’t like the idea because why have a law department if clients can just call law firms directly, control over legal costs passes to clients, and responsibility for all legal activities of the company is diluted. If I were force to take a position, I would favor direct contact as the more cost efficient if no inside lawyer has much competency in the area of law.