In-housers call on firms to improve cost management

In-house counsel have high expectations of their external dispute resolution lawyers beyond the outcome of the case, with costs being the most important factor.

A survey by Grant Thornton‘s forensic and investigation services practice has revealed that in-house counsel believe that, other than the outcome, managing costs is the most decisive factor in measuring a law firm’s success, followed by lawyers’ abilities to demonstrate an understanding of the company’s strategic objectives.

In-house counsel were asked to give law firms a performance score out of 10 and law firms were asked to assess themselves. In-house counsel rated law firms’ cost management at 5.5 out of 10, while firms rated themselves with a much higher 7.1.

One former in-house lawyer said the results of the survey were “not surprising”, as private practice lawyers “give clients what they think clients want”, and, not being in the industry, they do not understand the pressures faced by in-house legal teams.

While they struggled on costs, firms rated much higher on strategic and commercial performance. Firms were given a score of 7.9 and rated themselves similarly at 8.1 out of 10.

But one in-house lawyer was sceptical, saying: “They [external lawyers] think their litigation skills are enough. They need to think more about what’s more important to the business and apply their litigation skills to the business situation. They need to be more curious. Our people would share all their knowledge with them if they were to show an interest.”

Alternative dispute resolution was the area that provided the most disparity in assessments. In-house lawyers had given external firms a score of seven out of 10 in suggesting alternative methods for dispute resolution, while firms rated themselves at 8.9. Early resolution also revealed a similar disparity, with in-house counsel rating firms at 6.9 out of 10 and firms giving themselves eight.

“They could better advise earlier on the range of outcomes,” said one in-house lawyer.

To counter such criticisms, firms such as Eversheds have developed a standardised methodology to handle dispute resolution called ‘rapid case resolution’.