Five local in-house litigation counsel told a packed house of litigators at The Colonnade that they are under pressure to deliver good results for their companies even as their budgets continue to shrink.
The litigation managers from The Home Depot, Georgia-Pacific, AT&T Services, The Coca-Cola Co. and Emory University were united in their dislike of paying hourly rates to outside firms and reported using more alternative billing schemesparticularly flat feesat a monthly breakfast held by the Atlanta Bar Association's litigation section.
The in-house counsel pointed out that they have their own clients to answer tocorporate management, who don't like the expense and open-endedness of hourly billing. But the pressure to deliver results means they still pay hourly rates, particularly for high stakes matters.
Michael McQueeney, Coca Cola's associate general counsel for litigation and employment, said in-house counsel face an "insistence on predictability" in litigation budgets, even when that is not possible, given the nature of litigation.
Neal Berinhout, associate general counsel for AT&T Services, said he's completed his budgeting for 2013 and "it's all for naught." He said his company will set his budget by looking at his budget from 2012, then making cuts.
Jane Jordan, deputy general counsel and chief counsel for health affairs at Emory University said her legal budget has decreased by 40 percent over the past five years. "There is pressure from our inside clients to do more in-house."
The in-house lawyers expressed dissatisfaction with paying hourly rateseven with discounts.
The panel's organizer, Ed Konieczny, now in solo practice after 24 years at large corporate and plaintiffs firms, pointed out that a rate discount does not always mean savings, if a firm sets rates high enough to factor in the discounts that clients inevitably demand.
"Are you paying less or are you just feeling better?" he asked the panelists.
The in-house lawyers said their corporate bosses like to see discounts, but they shared Konieczny's skepticism that discounts are actually saving them money.