Bad News for Pedigree Law Firms Hiring Outside Attorneys

Bad News for Pedigree Law Firms Hiring Outside Attorneys 2

Dina Wang is a Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard Business School. She’s on twitter at @DinaSWang.

Hiring big-hitting lawyers by General Counsel and large companies is going through a major ground-shift, according to a new study.

The law firm pedigree may be less important than many of the Big Law contenders believe, according an article in the Harvard Law Review by Dina Wang:  “Why Law Firm Pedigree May Be A Thing of the Past”.

The survey of General Counsel at over 80 major companies, including the likes of Lenovo, Nike, Dell, Google, Vanguard, eBay, among many others found: “74 percent of GCs would be much more likely to choose a less-pedigreed firm for high-stakes litigation over a more-pedigreed firm (defined as Am Law 20 or Magic Circle) if the difference in cost was 30 percent or more.”


And how often do the costs of the big firms, or AmLaw 20 firms, rise 30 percent higher than the AmLaw 120 or 200 firms?  Much more often than companies are willing to pay.

In fact, according to the study, the cost premium when hiring from the Big Name Firms, could often go as high as 60 percent more than attorneys from other practices.

Finding GCs

When GCs search for a good attorney, or call legal recruiters to help with the search, they can no longer utilize older search methods to hire from the “magic circle”, or the AmLaw 20 big names. They are now diving deeper into their legal networks, to find the attorneys that have all the experience needed, but at a better value proposition.  And this takes a little more legwork than hiring lawyers previously, when the Googles and Ebays wanted the big names.

This trend was also reported in another study by Jayne Navarre, published on the titled, How General Counsel Evaluates and Hires Law Firms

Mike Roster, Steering Committee Chair for the ACC Value Challenge, commented on the changing trends:  “GCs are moving down the curve of cost; similar to a time when banks moved from the more expensive financial centers such as New York to more affordable cities like Charlotte. When General Counsel evaluates whether the large firm or small firms are better, they look to find the right person in a lower cost model that is highly capable, and often with greater geographic convenience.”

For one, companies, GCs, and legal recruiters will have their job cut out for them in finding lower cost, yet highly capable, talent.  As the hunt for these harder to find attorneys grows, the need for current contact data on these attorneys will also grow.

No longer can these jobs be filled by the short AmLaw list or the standard, “Top 100”, which have been relatively easy to find in the past. In today’s world, the GCs, and big and small companies alike, are asking for a different profile of the attorneys in demand.

Scroll to Top