In Latest Round of Cuts, Dechert Lays Off Staff Attorneys (The Legal Intelligencer, 26 Feb 09) raises the question of how clients should staff matters. 

The article discusses the economics of staff attorneys versus associates. A more interesting question is the functional differences between them and cost trade-offs, which is is a subset of the more general issue of how best to staff a matter. Articles on law firm economic pressures or GCs complaining about cost crunches are legion (see, e.g., Feeling the Pinch or Budget Blues in the March issue of InsideCounsel).

Where are the articles or case studies with real analysis of a rational approach to staffing matters? Should a GC want staff attorneys on her matter? Or associates? Or contract lawyers? Or offshore lawyers? The answer varies by matter and one factor is the law firm mark-up on each resource. In my May post The Right Resources to Solve Legal Problems, I proposed a framework to optimize staffing.

Broken record time: whining about costs and tinkering with rates only goes so far. GC and law firms must think hard about how they staff matters. Of course, interests may not align. The optimal mix from the GC perspective may be far from the profit-maximizing mix for the law firm. And therein lies the rub: reconciling the tension. But guess who’s in the driver’s seat now. Will GC start driving?