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(Illustration by Jon Reinfurt)

Earlier this year, advisory company CEB brought together 20 heads of litigation from large companies to discuss the latest research on effective litigation management. The conversations we had over the course of that day weren’t a surprise to us; the challenges and frustrations of in-house litigators are pretty well-known. But when we looked back over our notes, we saw a theme that did surprise us: Corporate litigation suffers from a lack of leadership. When litigation goes badly, it’s because no one knows who’s in the driver’s seat.

Even with hundreds of years of experience in the room, we still heard remarkably similar stories of learned helplessness. Senior lawyers from Fortune 500 companies told us they couldn’t change the behavior of their suppliers—i.e., their law firms. They had hired the right firm, but at some point they lost—or gave away—control over a matter. The law firms didn’t always fill the leadership void. And, judging from what we heard that day, that’s how just about every disaster happens.

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