A five-year business plan by a law department is a waste of time

The tumultuous saga of Borealis AG’s law department appears in the ACC Docket, Vol. 26, Nov. 2008 at 38. In September 2006, the team had a dozen members, “a mixture of lawyers, paralegals (contract manager and company secretarial), a law student, ethics officer, and support staff.” Highlighted by a relocation that year of the legal group from Denmark to Austria, which “precipitated the loss of almost all head-office based legal and support staff,” the general counsel, Ruth Steinholtz, was the only one to move (See my post of May 25, 2008: relocate lawyers with 7 references.).

The article speaks mostly about the benefits to a law department of a leadership development coach, many team meetings, and morale boosters. One of the team initiatives, and what struck me, was that somewhere along the line the legal department “developed a comprehensive legal department strategy document and its first five-year business plan.”

With no sense of irony, the authors brag about this long-long range plan right after they lay out the upheavals of relocations and unplanned departures of key lawyers. The wrenching changes of the Borealis business were the backdrop of intense pressures on the law department. In such a fix, indeed for any law department even in the most stolid industry, a five-year plan is wishful thinking and a feckless exercise.

Like budgets on huge lawsuits, the headlights down the road dim quickly. Just consider the unanticipated walloping that the current recession is giving to realize that no law department has that much foresight or control over its fate. The end of the article mentions a management diktat to reduce legal costs by close to 40 percent, which certainly threw overboard any grand strategic plans (See my post of June 25, 2008: strategic plan with 10 references.).

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