Outside Counsel Engagement and Retention Policies

June 23, 2011

Gone are the days when in-house counsel assign major projects to outside counsel, deferring to their law firms to decide what work is necessary and paying vague bills “for services rendered.” 

According to a recent ACC/Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey, more in–house counsel are setting specific rules of engagement that dictate how outside counsel must handle their work. 

Many of these requirements stem from basic project management principles: conduct an early case assessment and identify early exit points, create a financial plan/budget, designate a project team with appropriate experience levels.  Other retention terms require law firms to comply with company specific policies, like a preferences for alternative dispute resolution and diversity of legal professionals on the project team. 

Below are some common engagement terms used by leading legal departments to govern the conduct of their outside counsel. 

Does your legal department have its own retention agreement? What other retention terms do you use in your corporate legal department? Experiencing any push-back from your outside counsel regarding a specific term?  In your experience, which retention terms drive the greatest cost savings and efficiencies? 


  Percentage of Legal Departments using Retention Term
Require discounts from standard rates 74.7%
Project budgets required 64.6%
No change of assigned attorneys without client consent 63.5%
Travel expense rules 60.1%
Early case assessments 59.6%
Client ownership of work product 46.6%
Policies encouraging alternative dispute resolution 29.8%
Technology requirements 24.7%
Policies regarding diversity of service providers 18.5%