ALM Properties, Inc.
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Who Represents America's Biggest Companies? 2011 Report
Welcome to CorpCounsel's annual look at the law firms retained by America's biggest companies. If you've been paying attention the past couple of years, you would have thought that the law firms, too, would be struck by the tidal wave of the Great Recession, and that everything would change as a result. But just like Hurricane Irene, this revolution seems to have caused less than cataclysmic change in how legal departments retain and use outside counsel.
A glance at the Top 100 chart will show that corporate America uses most of the same firms it's always used. The rankings may change a bit from year to year, but that's just a ripple. Our reporting over the past few years has told us there are lots of reasons for the minor ups and downs. The volume of litigation changes from year to year; firms may show up when a suit generates lots of court papers—our primary way of tracking outside firm use. Indeed, some law firms don't show up in our listings very often, because of the nature of their client work. Who is it that said a good lawyer keeps his or her client out of court (here's looking at you, Skadden)?
The relative calm is in marked contrast to the hype coming from the folks who speak at conferences and write about how they retain counsel in online forums. We've reported on convergence programs, alternative fee arrangements, the use of metrics, and value challenges. You could be under the impression that picking a law firm has become an exercise driven exclusively by math and cold, hard logic.
But it isn't. Maybe commoditized legal services can be bundled and sent offshore. But the practice of law remains a uniquely human enterprise, and personal relationships and comfort with a partner still count for a lot. So for this year's survey package, we asked our reporters to go through their notes to find close, long-term in-house/outside counsel relationships that seem to work. They've come up with four completely different takes on what remains one of the more important tasks for the in-house bar—how to choose and direct outside counsel.