A theory of in-house lawyers between the devil client and the deep blue sea

A few days ago, Jon Olson, the thoughtful general counsel of Blackbaud,commented on my post about legal departments as multi-dimensional (mathematical) spaces. He explained his own theory:

“One theory that I find useful is the idea that law departments essentially manage the externalities of a business. That is to say, law departments manage the friction point where the untrammeled corporate will meets the greater society. It happens that many of these friction points are legal in nature; and the many that aren’t strictly legal still benefit from good “lawyering” skills (e.g., the ability to communicate clearly, analyze an issue, build consensus). As such, the “space” is at the intersection of corporate strategy and the outside world, with all the layers of politics, culture, personal preference, laws, legal delivery systems, internal process and policy, risk appetite, and technology that entails. Multi-dimensional, indeed !”

Olson certainly envisions a transcendent, fundamental role for legal departments, on the ramparts between clients and the world with the protection going both ways. My image of in-house legal teams is less grand, to be sure, but Olson certainly sketches a fascinating perspective about the attributes lawyers can bring to bear and the contribution they can make.

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