Efficient Staffing

I guess Lexington, Massachusetts, wasn’t quite desperate enough to offer a big firm a better deal.

Last month we told you that Biglaw firms have encountered success in putting offices in small cities staffed with non-partner track associates and back office personnel.

The trend now continues with Bingham McCutchen’s announcement that they are opening a “Global Services Center” in Lexington, Kentucky. The center will eventually house 250 employees who will handle administrative support functions for the firm. Some current Bingham employees will be given the option of relocating from Boston to Lexington.

Hmm… this reminds me of another person who went from Kentucky to Boston and then back to Kentucky. “Newbury Street isn’t walking through that door, Bingham staffers. Quincy Market isn’t walking through that door, and Fenway Park isn’t walking through that door. And if they did, you’d still be living in Lexington freaking Kentucky.”

Oh, I kid. In all seriousness, though, and from the firm’s perspective, in-sourcing is clearly the way to go…

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One lawyer offers to represent you for $1000 an hour. Another lawyer offers to represent you for $400 an hour. Who’s more expensive?

The correct answer is: You don’t know.

You don’t know for three reasons. First, some $1000-an-hour guys are remarkably specialized.

The efficiencies triggered by specialization are obvious: If I need a lawyer to call the local real estate office and cause my form to be moved from the bottom of the pile to the top, there may be only one person in town who can make that call. He charges $1000 an hour; I buy a half hour of his time; I get off cheap. The $400-an-hour guy can assign a troop of $150-an-hour associates to research local real estate procedures until the cows come home, but that firm is not going to be cheap.

Specialization can yield efficiencies for other reasons, too. If I have a question about a particularly obscure subsection of some obscure law, there may be two ways to get an answer: (1) Call the $1000-an-hour lawyer whose entire practice is devoted to subsection VI(B)(2)(a)(iii) of the Obscurity Code, and have him respond in two hours with an answer, or (2) Have the $400-an-hour lawyer try to figure out the answer from scratch. Who do you suppose is cheaper?

But specialization is the easy case. $1000-an-hour guys can be inexpensive for other reasons, too….

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