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Whether law department lawyers compete with outside lawyers

A phrase from a treatise furrowed my brow: “Although in-house legal departments are in competition with law firms, legal departments still remain the primary purchasers of outside legal services, and their purchasing options have improved dramatically.”.

Abstractly considered, the statement by Janet Langford Kelly, Susan Sneider and Kelly Fox, “The Relationship Between the Legal Department and the Corporation,” in Successful Partnering Between Inside and Outside Counsel (Robert Haig, Ed.) Vol. 1, Chapter 16 at 16-53, may hold true. The legal services sought by a corporate client may be a zero sum game: the more done inside, the less outside, and the reverse. Thus, competition.

Yet that is not how most in-house lawyers think of outside counsel – as predators stalking their jobs. It gives pause for someone who thinks of partnering as a close, trusting and non-competitive relationship. (See my post of March 15, 2009: trust outside counsel in front of clients.).