tl;dr – a Primer on Managing External Legal Providers

In short, I wrote a primer for the Buying Legal Council on making service delivery reviews a core tenant of an external provider program. I think you should read it. It is probably shorter than the post that follows. For those who are not yet Internet speak aficionados, tl;dr stands for ‘too long; don’t read’ (editor). So read on…
For those who are not yet Internet speak aficionados, tl;dr stands for ‘too long; don’t read’ (editor).
Please read on…

[Scene: a bar at the fabulous, just-concluded ILTACON]

Strawman: I read your last post criticizing convergence initiatives.

Me: “Criticize” might be a tad strong. Convergence initiatives are among my core consulting services. I am a proponent. But I consider convergence a precondition. I am candid that what happens post convergence is more critical to success than convergence itself. Yet convergence has become one of those ‘things that law departments like us do.’ The original sin of so many preferred provider programs is that too little thought goes into ‘and then what.’

SM: What about Microsoft?

Me: What about Microsoft?

SM: Their new outside counsel initiative is very much premised on deeper relationships with their primary providers.

Me: Yes, it is. Looks fantastic. Kudos to them.

SM: But don’t you see the inconsistency? Aren’t they doing precisely what you said law departments don’t do?

Me: My claim is about most law departments. What Microsoft is doing is remarkable. It is remarkable precisely because it is different. If they were doing what everyone else is already doing, there would be no story. There are many law departments that earn their headlines and are worthy of not only admiration but emulation in some of their approaches to managing external relationships—Microsoft, 3M, 7-ElevenADM, Avis, BarclaysDHLGE, GSKShell….it is long list in raw numbers with a lineage that dates back to at least the DuPont model. But it remains a much smaller percentage of the Global 500 than logic or press coverage would seem to suggest. It’s not like I’m an original thinker. I had to get my ideas from somewhere.

SM: That’s my question. What ideas? I read that entire post waiting for you to explain what law departments should be doing post convergence. I found nothing.

Me: Did you click on the links?

SM: Links? No one has time for that.

Me: Well, there was a link to a free ACC guidebook I wrote a little over a year ago where I discussed in excruciating detail my thoughts on managing relationships with external providers.

SM: Oh yeah, I know the one you are talking about. I downloaded it. But, you know, tl;dr.

Me: tl;dr?

SM: Too long, didn’t read. You can get a bit, um, wordy.

Me: That I can. Well, I’ve got good news. I wrote a primer for the Buying Legal Council. The main body clocks in at under five pages of actual text if you ignore the table of contents, deliberate white spaces, and appendix.

SM: What does it say?

Me: Really, you aren’t going to read five pages?

SM: I might. But I need to be convinced it warrants that kind of commitment.

Me: I believe clients need to pay sustained attention to systems for legal service delivery—how expertise is leveraged through process and technology. This demands not only a different degree but a different kind of engagement with external providers. Engagement premised on accountability, collaboration, and a shared commitment to co-prosperity. Clients are the urgency drivers and must take the lead in ensuring that continuous improvement is woven into the fabric of their relationships. They should create feedback loops with their primary providers incorporating consistent quantitative and qualitative measurement, regular inquiries into service delivery, site visits, and structured dialogue. This is a true program, not a one-time push. It requires follow through, including a willingness to take decisive action. No lip service or virtue signaling. No discount kabuki. Real dollars must be at stake.

SM: That went way over the 140 character limit. Still, it might prove interesting. I’ll check it out. That said, I’ve always wanted to ask you a question. Do you have any hobbies?

Me: Not really.

SM: Didn’t think so.

[End Scene]

The primer is here.


D. Casey Flaherty is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas. He is Of Counsel and Director of Client Value at Haight Brown & Bonesteel. He serves on the advisory board of Nextlaw Labs. He is the primary author of Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the ACC Legal Operations Section. Find more of his writing here. Connect with Casey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or email

tl;dr – a Primer on Managing External Legal Providers first appeared on August 22, 2017 on 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and is re-posted on Dialogue with kind permission.


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Sacha Kirk

Thank you for the humor and interesting post! I absolutely agree with your points on “accountability, collaboration, and a shared commitment to co-prosperity” and is actually the premise on which we founded our business. The Buying Legal Council is, as always, right on the pulse and from personal experience they are a brilliant organisation to collaborate with!
Much enjoyed,