Reactions to a very high standard set for what constitutes a “successful law department”

“We propose that a successful legal department is one in which the quality of the legal services delivered is unparalleled, the feeling of job satisfaction by members of the legal department is high, and the legal department as a whole is regarded as a partner in achieving the corporate goals and thought leader in corporate life.” The high-flying definition comes from the ACC Docket, March 2012 at 26.

If that be the measure of success, all law departments are doomed to fail. Consider the three tests that need to be passed.

First, “unparalleled legal services,” strictly speaking, means uniquely good, so only one legal department can claim that honor. All the rest fall short of the hyperbolic standard. Second, job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily correlate with high value delivered to the employer. An in-house attorney can be pleased as punch with her perceived contribution but fall woefully short in the eyes of clients.

As to the third component of the definition, partner status is within reach for a number of departments, but in a company of any size not enterprise-level thought leadership. Such vaunting ambition detracts from the core contribution law departments should strive for, a goal amply hard to achieve.

When you combine the three requirements, where each is either extremely difficult or unattainable, no department can regard itself as “successful.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is admirable for each legal department to set its sights high and to strive to be the best it can by delivering as much value as the company is willing to pay for. That makes for success.

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