What is the meaning of “Center of Excellence?

At a recent panel, a senior lawyer with General Electric said his department has set up “Centers of Excellence.” He likened the Centers to shared services groups (See my posts of Dec. 31, 2006 on law departments as shared services and a definition; March 23, 2007 on Raytheon’s legal specialists in that structure; Jan. 17, 2006 on McDonald’s real estate function; Dec. 20, 2005 on document management and shared services; and July 3, 2007 on NCR’s organization.). The GE Centers consist of specialist lawyers who handle issues in environment, human resources, securities law, bankruptcy, and litigation. By the way, he feels more comfortable with the less-boastful term “Centers of Expertise.”

GE used to have seven strategic business units, each with its own specialist contingent of lawyers. Now, his colorful metaphor for the CoE group is that “you want the Hulk instead of the Seven Dwarfs.” Shared specialists make sense. Grumbling slightly, I twinge at the CoE designation because it exalts specialty lawyers – are generalist lawyers bumbling chopped liver? – and dilutes the terms “excellence” and “expert.”

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