Alleged “best practices” for global legal departments

An executive of Robert Half Legal, Charles Volkert III, opines in Met. Corp. Counsel, Vol. 15, Nov. 2007 at 43, how global law departments can best be managed. I have some comments on his assertion that “The most successful legal departments have adopted the following [five] best practices:”

1. “Establish clear reporting lines.” Obliquely Volkert seems to advocate that all lawyers report to the general counsel, but only because he writes “dotted-line reporting for local attorneys is helpful.” Mostly he writes about communications methods between general counsel and the troops. He does not address important structural practices such as regional reports or the location of lawyers.

2. “Create specialist hubs.” In a far-flung law department, I doubt that a “specialist” could advise on antitrust or labor laws of local countries. No one can know the laws well of more than a country or two. If a law department had global specialty lawyers, they would manage outside counsel mostly. Meanwhile, Volkert doesn’t address the divide between commercial lawyers and specialist lawyers.

3. “Set up a seamless communication system.” In my experience, the law department makes do with the email, phone and video-conference facilities of the company. A law department itself can’t do too much regarding its electronic communication capabilities beyond the corporate infrastructure available to it.

4. “Negotiate fees with international counsel.” Volkert’s point appears to be that if you hold out to a firm the possibility of world-wide legal fees, you might reach a more favorable discount level. But that is only true if the firm can competently advise you in several countries.

5. “Virtual vs. in-person meetings.” If an important decision must be made, sit with the other members of the law department. OK, but a best practice?

The five “best practices” have an odd tilt toward “really try to keep in touch.” Nothing about alignment with the business structure, nothing about hiring local lawyers vs. ex pats, nothing about rotations. I don’t find these very useful.

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