Coffee – grounds for insights about law departments

In one law department where I consulted, there are no coffee makers. Instead, at 10ish and 3ish a cart trundles around, bell ringing, and people flock to it for their donuts and cup of joe. Other law departments have no alcove with coffee pots and creamers, but the cafeteria provides what you want all day, sometimes for pay, sometimes for free. Still other departments boast fancy machines that turn small cups of grounds into your chosen drink, including espresso, cappuccino and mocha grandes. Moving up the amenity grade, other law departments array not only shiny, high-end libation makers but also soft drinks, fruit juices, teas, and small munchies.

How coffee is made available to in-house counsel says a great deal about the culture of the department and company it serves (See my post of Dec. 17, 2007 on culture.). It speaks to the economics of the department and probably correlates with total legal spending as a percentage of revenue. The ethnographic revelations about shared experiences, water-cooler chats, and freedom of expression are apparent. Even semiotics can draw on the configuration and style of the coffee pantry (See my post of Jan. 25, 2007 on semiotics.). In café veritas.

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