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When the firm is not busy, and individuals are perhaps worried about whether they have enough billable hours to avoid the next round of layoffs, those incentives may work the other way.

Over the past 20 years or so, information technology created a problem for corporations by generating oceans of data that had to be collected, preserved, and reviewed in litigation.

Far too many of them are looking for relatively small, short-term savings, and doing so in a way that could critically damage key relationships. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do four significant things: (1) Assign legal work to the providers best suited to a particular task, rather than paying a premium for one-stop shopping; (2) lower legal costs without sacrificing quality; (3) create greater transparency and accountability; and (4) derive greater value from in-house counsel.

Let’s look first at why corporate legal services have been relatively slow to embrace the disruptive change that’s in the air.

The resulting layoffs and postponement of starting dates for new hires quite publicly signaled which firms were experiencing a drop-off in work.

This excess capacity is interesting not only because it enhanced clients’ bargaining power but also because it heightened scrutiny of the billable-hour model.

In such a system, where everyone expects to see winners and losers, the latter can derive little comfort from saying, “Well, I didn’t hire the best lawyers, but I did save some money.” At least temporarily, the bargaining power in the lawyer-client relationship has shifted in a way that can lead to a genuine realignment in legal services.

To address that risk, law firms threw armies of young lawyers and paralegals at the problem—a highly profitable solution from their standpoint, but one that has become unsustainable for their clients.These and other dramatic changes are affecting the practice and business of law across the globe, but particularly in the United States and the UK, where most of the world’s largest law firms are based.It’s our belief that corporate legal departments are in danger of missing an important opportunity.Within the bounds of professional responsibility, lawyers have significant discretion about how deeply to research a particular issue, how many times to rewrite a brief or a loan document, and under how many figurative rocks to look for potential problems with a deal.When a law firm is very busy, its lawyers have every incentive to spend only as much time as is strictly required on a particular matter.

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