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“Alignment with clients’ strategy” may be a chimera

Everyone extols “aligning the law department closely with its clients’ strategy”; no one untangles what that exhortation means in specific terms. As important, no one questions whether a law department can attain the nirvana of alignment.

A quote in a piece criticizing Human Resources departments struck home (Fast Company, Aug. 2005 at 47): “It’s very difficult to align HR strategy to business strategy, because business strategy changes very fast.” To the same point, how can a law department, with its fixed talent pool of in-house lawyers and accustomed law firms, bob and weave apace with its clients, who are mutating and re-organizing and competing at top speed? How can a law department pretend to some pretence of organizational stability if it’s trying to wear clothes like its oft-changing twin, its clients? They change organizational fashion too much.

I overstate, admittedly, but I want to emphasize my point. Mouthing platitudes about alignment with clients allows a general counsel to avoid the hard issues of operationalizing the platitude, of structuring and restructuring the department to keep up with a morphing business. [See my post earlier today about breathing reality into mission statements.]