GCs Starting to Bring the Work Back Home

Leslie A. Gordon
GC California Magazine
December 18, 2008

Like many in-house lawyers, Shannon Dwyer, general counsel at St. Joseph Health System in the Southern California city of Orange, has been gearing up for the 2010 budgeting cycle. The $4 billion, nonprofit organization, which runs 14 hospitals in three states, has a “responsibility to be a good steward of the assets,” says Dwyer. But in the current economy, she’s finding that using seasoned attorneys at large law firms is quickly becoming “cost-prohibitive.”

As a result, she’s been looking to hire a new lawyer — bringing her legal department to nine attorneys — to help handle even more of St. Joseph’s legal work in house. “It’s a basic cost-benefit analysis,” says Dwyer. “Although there’s some convincing of management to be done whenever you increase [employee staffing] at the corporate level, it’s not difficult to make the business case” that adding in-house lawyers is cheaper in the long run than paying increasingly rising outside attorney fees.

Demonstrating a trend that has significant implications for law firms, a growing number of California companies are under pressure to control costs and handle more work in house, where they can come closer to paying wholesale rather than retail for legal services. According to a 2008 survey of chief legal officers, conducted by consulting firm Altman Weil, GCs like Dwyer are planning to decrease their use of outside firms, which typically constitute the largest expense of any corporate legal department. Correspondingly, chief legal officers plan to increase law department staffing over the next 12 months, according to the survey, which was conducted this past May and June.

Specifically, the survey reports that 49 percent of legal departments plan to hire additional lawyers in the next year, up from the 40 percent who said they planned on new hiring in the last survey. At the same time, 26 percent of law departments will decrease their outside counsel, up significantly from 16 percent in last year’s survey. Only eight percent of CLOs plan to increase their use of outside counsel, down from 18 percent. Not surprisingly, CLOs cited cost control as their top concern over the next three to five years.

Hildebrandt International, another legal consulting firm, conducted a similar survey, which supports the Altman Weil conclusions. Hildebrandt’s 2008 law department survey found that inside legal spending rose by five percent in the United States while spending on outside counsel increased by just two percent. Nearly a third — 29 percent — of the 223 responding companies anticipate a decrease in the number of law firms they will use.

For more see law.com.

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