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John C. Coates, Michele M. DeStefano, Ashish Nanda & David B. Wilkins, Hiring Teams, Firms, and Lawyers: Evidence of the Evolving Relationships in the Corporate Legal Market, 36 Law & Soc. Inquiry 999 (2011).

Abstract: How are relationships between corporate clients and law firms evolving? Drawing on interview and survey data from 166 chief legal officers of S&P 500 companies from 2006–2007, we find that—contrary to standard depictions of corporate client-provider relationships—(1) large companies have relationships with ten to twenty preferred providers; (2) these relationships continue to be enduring; and (3) clients focus not only on law firm platforms and lead partners, but also on teams and departments within preferred providers, allocating work to these subunits at rival firms over time and following “star” lawyers, especially if they move as part of a team. The combination of long-term relationships and subunit rivalry provides law firms with steady work flows and allows companies to keep cost pressure on firms while preserving relationship-specific capital, quality assurance, and soft forms of legal capacity insurance. Our findings have implications for law firms, corporate departments, and law schools.