As law firms grow into the thousands of lawyers, thus enabling and rewarding more and more specialization; as partnership decisions tighten, thus rewarding practitioners versed in narrower and narrower areas of law; as clients merge and grow, thus encountering more sophisticated legal issues and seeking just the right spice for the precise recipe, the pressure for lawyers to specialize intensifies. But specialists, whether in the company or outside, strike a Faustian bargain. Technocrats know trees and bushes; generalist counselors gain the laurels.
Most CEOs and Boards want a general counsel who has judgment, whose legal experience combined with commercial instincts encompass business broadly and the law more broadly. The problem is that the private law firm world admires those who know an area of law inside and out, who wrote the treatise, but the law department world favors those who know the world and have breadth of vision.
(As a meta-post on specialists, see my posts in 2005 of Sept. 10 on large law departments and specialization, July 16 on multi-sourcing specialty firms, July 30 on dual reporting of in-house specialists, July 14 on single points of contact, and Nov. 8 on use of outside counsel by inside specialists.)