Is “law-department strategic plan” an oxymoron?

To my way of thinking, a strategic plan devises changes to fundamentals about a business. New markets, new means of production, new products, new manufacturing and distribution methods – that sort of thing.

Law departments, by those terms, can’t alter strategy, with three exceptions. The business the department supports decides all of the strategic parameters, and the law department must do its best to meet the resulting legal demands.

In three domains, however, a law department (general counsel) can set its own strategy. It can decide to decentralize the reporting of its lawyers. (See my post of Dec. 14, 2005 on “functional” reporting.) Second, it can – potentially — massively shift the balance between inside lawyers doing most of the legal work to outside counsel doing most of it. And, third, it can transform its internal reporting structure.

Still, the term “strategic planning” overly glorifies what law departments can actually start from scratch to transform. The weaker meaning of the term, more like “thinking about the future,” is not moronic.

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