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Which influences most in the selection process, the firm or the lawyer?

Firm managers try to grapple clients to the entire firm: “BigCorp is a client of BigFirm!” Firm partners strive to become the trusted advisor of a person: “LitAGC turns to me for BigMatters and Small!” General counsel come down on both sides of the debate: sometimes firms, sometimes partners. Note that the ACC Covenant with Counsel sides with the firm managers: “[Clients will] help nurture an enduring relationship with the firm, not just individual lawyers” (See my post of April 27, 2009: exegesis on the Covenant.).

General counsel favor big name law firms (ergo, big firms) for big matters. Non-lawyers are more likely to be impressed (and if things go wrong, possibly consoled) by a name-brand law firm than by an individual partner. Admittedly, a handful of partners reach marquee stature, but in general, to pick the firm over the partner plays to the small number of law firms that executives, Board Members, and institutional shareholders recognize. The well-known choice plays best for major league matters.

Efforts to cement an institutional connection between a firm and a department start on the law firm’s side with the relationship partner (See my post of July 26, 2008: relationship partners with 8 references; and Feb. 19, 2007: fire law firms with 8 references and my article.). Efforts to cross sell, if the general counsel buys, depends on the allure of the law firm more than the charms of an individual lawyer (See my post of Feb. 20, 2009: cross-selling by law firm partners with 7 references.).

Incumbent firms build advantages, not the least in competitive processes (See my post of April 16, 2009: incumbent firms with 11 references; and March 16, 2009: rigged competitions with 6 references.).

Even so, once the well-recognized firm gets the nod on a crucial matter, the general counsel still has to select a partner to lead the matter. More commonly, when matters are not so high profile as to tip the selection toward a name firm, it is the individual partner who draws the attention of those who select counsel (See my post of June 12, 2005: partner or firm; June 13, 2006: function of familiarity; Dec. 16, 2007: endless debate; and Dec. 3, 2005: first hire the lawyer, then cling to the firm.). So long as the firm’s infrastructure is judged sufficient to handle the matter, it is the brain, style, experience, and judgment of the partner that makes the most difference.

As proof, if a respected partner leaves a firm, even in the midst of a major matter, most general counsel will transfer matters with him or her, accepting the disruption, nodding to the new firm, and demonstrating faith in the partner (See my post of Aug. 4, 2008: loyalty to law firms with 6 references; and
Sept. 12, 2008: transfer matters to new counsel with 8 references.).
The partner, not the junior lawyers let alone the other resources of the firm, makes all the difference (See my post of May 11, 2007: complaints about associates with 13 references.).