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In my Editor’s Note last month, I mused about why in-house lawyers aren’t more aggressive about asking for discounts or alternative billing arrangements from their outside counsel. It provoked a host of responses. Some readers, like Jonathan Robertson, general counsel of RSI Holding Corp., had concrete solutions to this question. Others wanted to brag about how they’ve cajoled firms into knocking down their rates. One lawyer thought comparing my 2-year-old’s overpriced nursery school tuition to outside legal spending was ludicrous (does that mean you’ll write the check for me?). But it’s not just law firm fees where general counsel walk noisily and carry a tiny stick. Diversity and technology are two other areas where in-house lawyers pressure outside counsel to improve. Yet when it ultimately comes to firing firms over these principles, the corporate counsel back down. On the diversity front, many in-house lawyers talk about how important this issue is when they retain outside counsel. Certainly many big firms have made a concerted effort to hire and promote minorities, efforts that they tout in their RFPs. And some clients are even tracking how much of their billable work is allocated to minority lawyers. But in the end, how many corporations ever fire key outside counsel because of their poor showing in this area? In the almost four years I’ve spent in this job, I’ve never come across a single company that says, even without naming the firm, it has done so. In fact, a 2004 Kirkpatrick & Lockhart study of the Fortune 1000 found that a firm’s racial diversity was only the fifth-biggest reason why a company retained it; that the firm’s attorneys communicate effectively, that they work as a team, are a pleasure to work with, etc. — all of these were considered more important. The same point holds true when it comes to technology. Our 2005 In-House Tech Survey found that in-house lawyers continue to make more technological demands on their outside lawyers. More than half of the Fortun 500 companies polled have asked their outside counsel to obtain a specific technological product or capability. But only 8 percent have fired a firm because of its lack of technology offerings. Certainly there are exceptions. But the bottom line is that too often corporate counsel’s complaints in these areas are just window-dressing. In the end, if in-house lawyers continue to huff and puff without really meaning it, it’s hard for firms to take them seriously and to make costly changes to their billing, hiring, and technology systems. On another front, I am delighted to announce that Corporate Counsel was a finalist for a 2004 Neal Award. The “Pulitzer Prizes” of business-to-business journalism had more than 1,000 entries this year. We were singled out for best feature for our October cover story on Toro Co.’s novel product liability settlement program. Congratulations to everyone at the magazine.

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