Every in-house lawyer faces a column of legal work. At the lowest layer is the hum-drum incessant flow of ordinary legal services and advice (See my post of March 18, 2007 on commodity legal work being crucial to the business.). Commodity legal work is the stuff of process (See my posts of Feb. 6, 2007 with references cited.). It must be done, competently and diligently, but it hardly sets the heart to racing.
Above that tranche comes the Goldilocks legal work: not too hard, not too easy, but just right and fun and professionally satisfying. Lawyers enjoy this broad layer of work and feel confident that they can do well and guide their clients successfully. This work is solid, satisfying and stimulating. One’s heartbeat picks up.
A the top, outside the comfort zone of professional growth and competency in the middle, are the occasional legal heart attacks. The project is high-profile, risky, full of law not well known (See my post of Oct. 18, 2005 about the silliness of lawyers wanting to tackle rocket science all the time.). Outside counsel are on the scene, and in the conference rooms or late at night the heart races.
From the standpoint of law-department management, (1) those who distribute work need to appreciate this columnar view of workload, (2) departments need the right horses inside and out for its distribution of work, and (3) managers ought to take into account differences among lawyers with regard to the kinds of work coming into the department.