National Counsel Gain Popularity With GCs

In the late 1990s Ecolab Inc. began to get slammed with lawsuits. The cleaning and sanitizing products manufacturer was growing, and as its products spread to new markets throughout the United States, so did its litigation.

The 15-person legal department had a tight budget and faced some serious products liability claims. Bringing a new person in-house to help with the increased workload was out of the question. Employing multiple law firms in the different states in which Ecolab was facing court battles seemed inefficient. The St. Paul, Minn.-based company eventually found a solution--hire national counsel.

"By working with the same national counsel for so many years, you shorten the entire litigation process," Bell explains. "Together, we address the key issues to resolve the case as expeditiously as possible."

The relationship between Morgan and Ecolab's legal department hasn't just reduced costs in ongoing cases; it has prevented potential cases from ever being filed.

U-Haul's approach was straightforward. First the company looked at the firms with which it had existing relationships and analyzed how they stacked up against each other.

From there, De Respino chose several firms to interview, asked the firms how they thought they would benefit U-Haul as its national counsel, and tried to get a sense of the firm's level of commitment to the company.

While retaining national counsel may involve a significant investment of time and money for legal departments looking for the best, most cost-effective services money can buy, many in-house counsel believe there is no other way to handle major litigation.

"When you're talking about situations where you're facing thousands of lawsuits in different jurisdictions, it truly becomes a coordination nightmare for in-house counsel," Grandstaff says. "The level of experience and expertise you get with national counsel is invaluable."

staff Writer

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