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Characteristics of “traditional” compared to “proactive” law departments

In the Fall of 2010 ALM Legal Intelligence collected surveys from 176 US in-house lawyers. LexisNexis CounselLink published the findings. A part of the report draws on a theoretical distinction of the Association of Corporate Counsel between what it has defined as “traditional” and “proactive” law departments. The archetypal operating styles diverge significantly on several of their nine characteristics.

One characteristic, “Style and Culture,” posits a traditional department as one that “Functions as a ‘law firm’ within the company” while a proactive department “Integrates closely with the business team.” In the LexisNexis survey, 18 percent described themselves as “like a law firm” while 82 percent chose the other description.

On the characteristic of “Work Orientation,” traditionals were described as focused on “project management” while proactives focus on “process management.” In the survey, the split was almost even (53% vs. 47%) among the respondents, but I must confess the distinction eludes me.

“Benchmarking and Metrics” contrasts the traditional department that “Focuses on overall law department spending compared to industry norms” against the proactive department that “Focuses on the unit costs of legal services and the department’s contribution to overall competitive advantage; compares with current and emerging competitors.” Again the self-described split was almost even (55% vs. 45%) among the respondents, but how did they think they showed competitive advantage?

“Law firm focus” contrasts the two operating styles this way: traditional “Selects and retains counsel based on performance and cost control priorities” while proactive “Selects counsel based on factors that go beyond performance & cost control to achieve significant integration in business operations.” Some 63 percent chose the first, perhaps because they did not know what “integration in business operations” meant.

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