Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Shopping Smart- Is It In Vogue for In-house Counsel

Yesterday, I was at my yacht club. Did say yacht club? That title may suggest more prestige and status than actually exists by being associated with this club. Since I retired I finally consented to serving as one of the trustees. We do not meet in blazers emblazoned with the club’s logo, although I did see someone wearing one once. As a trustee you get to do really important things, like today I have to get up on the roof of our covered patio and patch a leak in the rubber roof membrane.

So what does this have to do with in-house counsel? Wait and I will tell you.

Many of the club’s members are small business owners who have done well, but are not outrageously wealthy. There is one college president, a financial advisor, a doctor, some school teachers and a few of us who worked for large companies. We do not have a restaurant in the facility and put on most of our own social events, except the end of the season commodore’s ball. One of our newest innovative forms of entertainment occurs on every Friday night during the season and the first Friday night of the month off season. Everyone brings a side and dessert to share and their own entrée, and we have dinner together.

Recently, our conversations had shifted. Some members pointed out that they were not getting a new car as often as they had in the past. Other discussed the fact that they were finding friends and acquaintances less concerned about appearance and were taking pride in being frugal. The Club had always been a place that focused on boating. If you wanted to be seen near your boat rather than on it there was another club that provided an environment for that at considerably higher cost.

When I returned home yesterday after one of these discussions, I was perusing the CNBC web site and found a blog entitled: “Cheap is Sexy.” Its author stated that the idea of shopping smart, thrifty and within your means was now becoming admirable. This was the first time she said that she can recall an economic downturn created a “high end validated shift-to-thrift.”

OK, now the in-house connection. At about the same time this was occurring I received a summer update to former ACC directors from Fred Krebs. Among the things he mentioned was an ACC initiative called “The ACC Value Challenge. “ The objective is to “reconnect value with the cost of outside legal services.” I, for one, am looking forward to seeing whether this effort has substance or whether it is simply another renamed ruse in a long line of ruses that Robert Banks, the first Chairman ACC described as in-counsels’ effort to look like they are managing outside legal fees rather than actually managing them. I did note that there was no mention of doing something like getting up and patching the patio roof yourself, but it could be one part of the process.

It will be interesting to keep our eyes on what develops. If it is half as successful as the Friday night dinner at my yacht club, it will be a real achievement.

-Larry Salibra
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