I read somewhere that McDonald’s does not deal directly with companies that manufacture its cups. Instead, it has a “cup company” handle all of its cup issues, including purchases. The reason, as I recall the article, is that McDonald’s is not a cup company and dealing with cup issues, prices, etc. is not a core competency. It deals with a company for which such issues are a core competency.
“Fascinating, Pat,” I can hear some of you saying, “but what the heck does this have to do with the practice of law in general and client service in particular.” A lot, actually.
First, check on “The Cisco Way” in this month’s ABA Journal.com. It is a story, on one hand, about a client driving change in the way its outside counsel work. I’ve long believed (and written) that major changes in the profession occur on a widespread basis only because clients demand the changes. But beyond that issue, think about opportunities created by this change. Mark Chandler, the GC of Cisco, states in the article: “In the past you would say, ‘I hope there’s one firm big enough to do it all for me. Not anymore. Now technology lets you pick and choose and bring together the best in each area.” There’s a focus on being best in an area.
If you want to play with the big dogs, you’re going to have become a “cup company.” That is, a firm so good at something the big dogs need that they are better off turning to you to do it. But I believe it goes beyond just the big dogs. Mid-size and even smaller companies will have to access themselves whether the return on their legal service dollar is as high as it should be. Is it cost-effective for an inside lawyer to do everything, even if he or she doesn’t have the background, experience or training for certain things? Or will the company be better off if the inside lawyer focuses on the areas where he or she can provide maximum return and outsource the rest of the legal department function? The McDonald’s “cup company” concept has a place at the table for a lot of businesses.