Generalist business lawyers and law-area experts

A supplement in the ACC Docket, June 2010 after 32, uses terminology from Coca-Cola’s legal group in Europe. They describe their business unit lawyers as “operational lawyers” and their specialty lawyers as “functional lawyers.” Other legal departments apply different labels. What we call the two kinds of lawyers in legal departments doesn’t matter.

What matters are differences between the two distinct groups. One should be embedded as much as possible with the business unit, even being co-located with them. The other can cluster at headquarters. One should be an issue spotter; the other resolves issues. One rarely calls on outside counsel; the other accounts for most of the use of outside counsel, such as litigation, environmental, anti-trust and employment. One trades on its intimate knowledge of the business and its courses of conduct, the other could be almost as remote as a law firm. One rarely does legal research, the other has to keep up with changes in the law and dig into its intricacies. These functional gaps, not terminology, make all the difference.

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