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Will legal directories diminish the value of the general counsel?

An article in Legal Week, Vol. 10, March 6, 2008 at 13, makes the point that general counsel play down how useful legal directories can be. The author ascribes their putdowns not to the weaknesses of directories as much as to large doses of defensiveness. Good directories, the author suggests, undercut the power of the top lawyer. “Any chief executive or chief financial officer with access to a fully comprehensive guide to a legal market could quickly undermine one of the chief roles of a general counsel – the selection of outside counsel.”

I disagree. Picking outside counsel is not one of the general counsel’s “chief roles” (See my post of May 30, 2005: involvement of the general counsel.). For major matters, yes, but those are infrequent. More so, how the law firm is directed and the strategic decisions taken are more crucial. Second, the selection of significant outside representation is a delicate, thoughtful balancing of many considerations and no static and dated directory, written for all to read, can replace experience and judgment.

Invoking the specter of procurement professionals independently using directories of external firms, the article continues: “Legal directories which give a reasonably accurate view of the market could empower people other than in-house lawyers to pick their counsel themselves.”

As to the second point, that non-lawyers might bypass the internal lawyers and hire firms directly, I have staunchly advocated that the legal team should be the only group with authority to hire and instruct external counsel (See my posts of Aug. 30, 2006: law department should control all outside counsel hiring; April 26, 2006: wrest from clients.).