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The general counsel of the world’s largest Internet networking company is thinking small. Mark Chandler, GC at Cisco Systems, says he’s “looking at more and more small and midsize firms” when it comes to doling out the company’s $50 million-plus worth of legal work each year. In particular, Chandler says that he is eager to work with firms that are speedy, responsive and transparent. For example, Cisco’s in-house legal department includes only one patent attorney among its 120 lawyers. As a result, the company relies on many small and midsize patent firms — some local, some far away — to file most of its 1,000 patent applications each year. In the San Francisco Bay Area, those firms include 12-lawyer Hickman Palermo Truong & Becker of San Jose, 22-lawyer Beyer Weaver & Thomas of Mountain View and 75-lawyer Blakely, Sokoloff, Taylor & Zafman of Sunnyvale. Routine employment matters also tend to get outsourced, and not necessarily to megafirms, says Chandler. More important than size is transparency — the firms that work with Cisco provide the company’s attorneys access to the law firm’s knowledge bases and help them track work electronically as it progresses. Chandler compares that process to a consumer who is able to track online the processing and shipping of a book ordered, say, from Amazon.com. That kind of access is more important to Chandler than having 500 lawyers at the company’s beck and call. “Forty, 50, 60, 20 lawyers is not an issue for us,” says Chandler. “Three lawyers is not an issue for us.” What is important is that information be “available to people when they need it.” Cisco has used eight-lawyer Friedman Dumas & Springwater of San Francisco and nine-lawyer Bialson, Bergen & Schwab of Palo Alto on finance matters. It has relied on 22-lawyer Trucker Huss of San Francisco and 25-lawyer General Counsel Associates of Mountain View to handle various human resource matters. Another San Francisco firm, 27-lawyer Sideman & Bancroft, has handled litigation matters. Chandler jokingly mentions one other reason he likes using small firms. When he hands over a case, “I know the maximum number of timekeepers that will be on it.” Scott Graham is editor in chief at The Recorder , which publishes California Employment Law magazine.

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