Of nostrums and fortune cookies – platitudes don’t give useful guidance

Permit me a moment of snarkiness. Does everyone cringe when affronted with a platitude for management (See my post of Aug. 3, 2005 that savages “alignment with clients.”)? Here are a handful of other fortune-cookie pronouncements that sound sage but aren’t worth the thyme.

Structure your law department to optimize efficiency.
Keep layers to a minimum.
Design reporting lines to promote productivity and knowledge-sharing.
Locate lawyers where they best serve the company.
Align your structure to best serve your organization.

It’s not that these faux profundities are wrong, it’s that they apply to any law department and no one of sound mind would controvert them (See my post of Aug. 3, 2005 on mission statements that giddily repeat nostrums.). Often, like hoary sayings, they contradict each other: “choose the best firm for the matter” butts heads with “concentrate your outside counsel spend on a few firms.”

Platitudes also lack operational specificity. “Retain the best law firms for the lowest cost” can’t be denied as sound advice, but how does a general counsel do it or prove it? Fortune-cookie recommendations may sound useful at first bite, but they do not tell you how to spot trouble, evaluate cures or develop alternatives.

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