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Former GC: BigLaw Really Is Better

When Ron Friedmann recently derided general counsel for staying with time-worn practices in their hiring of outside counsel, even in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, he heard from one former GC who said that large companies will not be abandoning their BigLaw outside counsel anytime in the foreseeable future. With her permission, Friedmann shares her surprisingly frank comments.

Sheryl Katz is now an independent legal and technology consultant. She was formerly vice president and general counsel at 101 Communications LLC, now part of 1105 Media. She has also been a partner with Graham & James, counsel to Perkins Coie and an associate at Bryan Cave and WilmerHale. With that experience under her belt, she believes that any movement towards smaller firms is nothing more than a minor trend.

If small firms that would do the same quality work for less were truly available, I would have farmed out more work to them. In some cases former law school classmates, or former attorneys at Wilmer or other firms that I knew, were available in smaller firms to help on matters. Sometimes this resulted in good quality work and lower bills. However, small firms often don’t have the depth of staff, so some matters that are not even necessarily that big can really only be handled by a bigger firm. Also, on a lot of transactions you really need your tax lawyer, corporate lawyer and banking lawyer to be at the same firm.

There are plenty of good lawyers in firms of all sizes and "great" solo practitioners, she acknowledges. "Unfortunately," she adds, "there is also a lot of mediocrity." And then there is that CYA factor heard often among GC:

Going to a large firm in a lot of cases is sort of like going to a chain restaurant. You pretty much know that the minimum you are going to get is going to be acceptable. And if the firm messes up, as General Counsel, you are covered. After all, you can always say "It may be a mess but Blank, Blank and Blank is reputed to be a great firm so don’t fault me for hiring them."

I guess we can call her chain-resturant analogy the food-poisoning theory of law department management. Better the mass-produced burger that is safe and predictable than the risk of a gourmet meal.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 29, 2008 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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