Our industry needs a framework to describe the essentials of any law department. Specialists in many fields have created such taxonomies for their subjects, such astronomers and botanists (See my post of Nov. 24, 2008: botany and its lessons.). As my first crack at such a system of characteristics, here are five.
Activities. This includes my four-part breakdown of priorities, programs, processes, and practices as well as quasi legal work (See my post of April 9, 2008: quasi-legal tasks with 14 references.).
Structure. Key aspects of this classificatory attribute include centralized and decentralized reporting, levels of lawyers, and the split between legal practice areas and business unit specialists.
Size and industry. For many people, what is most important is the industry in which a law department works or the number of lawyers it has. I doubt that these are meaningful characteristics of law departments in comparison to the other four.
Functions. In addition to core legal work, what other functions are the responsibility of the legal department (See my post of Sept. 3, 2008: what is in the fold.).
Make-buy. The balance law departments choose between the internal production and external sourcing makes a considerable classificatory difference. Benchmarks can help here.