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Global departments often have small outposts and lower percentages of lawyers at “headquarters”

At companies with geographically dispersed in-house counsel, some locations have only a handful of lawyers or even just a single lawyer (See my post of Sept. 16, 2008: multiple foreign locations of lawyers and legal staff.). There are on average around five lawyers per non-headquarters office of McDonald’s. Or consider General Electric’s Asia-Pacific group, which has about 140 lawyers in 13 locations. In only three do more than 10 lawyers sit in the same building complex. Johnson & Johnson, has something like 140 lawyers in 34 locations so some of them may be solo in their location, or only one or two stationed together. British Petroleum’s legal group has many foreign offices, some as small as one lawyer.

A general counsel who tries to place local lawyers near local businesses inevitably ends up with multiple offices and sometimes with tiny legal outposts. Those general counsel confront some management challenges that geographically centralized law departments do not.

My prediction is that the large companies of the world will have decreasing percentages of their total legal headcount based in their largest (presumably headquarters) location.

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