Is your slip showing?
A few months ago, Ed Poll discussed this phenomenon in his LawBiz Blog, reporting from a legal marketing meeting where general counsel discussed the hows and whys of selecting outside lawyers. This issue was also raised earlier in the IP Litigation Blog with similar conclusions.
After running through a list of criteria, Mr. Poll states:
Reputation is very important to general counsel because they are always reviewed and criticized by someone – everyone – in their organization.
He then goes further: general counsel just don’t look at the lawyer, the firm is important, too. This is supposedly because:
… it is true that clients — Corporate America — do look at the law firms. They have to in order to CYA because, as noted above, their every move is scrutinized by everyone else in their corporate organization. It’s a lot easier to say a mistake was the result of an action by a major law firm than it is to say it was the result of a sole practitioner or small firm. This prejudice of large organizations (clients) regarding the size of their law firm is a fact of life.
This CYA explanation doesn’t wash in my experience. It reminds me of the shopworn “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Or their firm (Cravath)?
I choose outside counsel by targeting a specific lawyer or group at a firm. The firm’s “reputation” will enter into the calculus; size is less important–only so many lawyers can work a deal or case effectively. If a solo fits the bill (and some do for me), size is clearly irrelevant.
What I want is great service (good communication and results) at a reasonable cost. Those are the key things I am “covering.” If something goes wrong, I shoulder any blame, not the law firm. If an organization is scrutinizing a GC’s “every move,” it has too many people with too little to do.
Perhaps the CYA phenomenon is more common than I think. But a company that makes it a primary selection rationale really doesn’t have a general counsel.
A scrivener who initials invoices and golfs a lot is probably closer to the mark.