I have been a renter. I have been an investor in homes. I have been a buyer of homes and I have worked with a builder to design and build a home. Each experience has its pros and cons. The critical thing to making each role a successful one is to decide in advance what role you want to play. The same lesson holds true for operating a business and for operating a law department.
Renting and buying are transactional experiences. They are two forms of acquiring a residence. Investing is the act of using your resources to secure a return, generally both short and long-term. Being a builder is using your resources to create something new, something that has your fingerprints on it, your DNA in the design.
Few law firms are anything but sellers and landlords. They rent out their space to lawyers who rent themselves to clients for the duration of a matter. It is a transactional experience for the law firm, and, in these cases, for the law department client as well. Some clients make investments in their lawyers, knowing it is better to have a longer term relationship that will create returns for the law department over the duration of the relationship. But a relationship with a builder is different. It introduces the element of design and creation, going through an iterative design process to find out what is essential, what satisfies and what delights, and how those things can be accomplished within a budget.
These experiences caused me to wonder why most law departments and law firms fall into the renter/landlord or buyer/seller relationship, and not the investor, designer and builder type of relationships with their outside counsel. So many issues that cause discomfort between law departments and law firms would simply vanish if both sides came at the relationship with a different perspective.