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Learn your client’s business by doing it

When Jack VanWoerkom became the new general counsel of Home Depot in the summer of 2007, one of his first obligations was to serve two weeks as a store clerk. According to Corp. Counsel, Vol. 14, Sept. 2007 at 30, Home Depot requires its executives “to get a feel for the business by wearing an orange apron for a while.” This is an excellent practice, and one which is applicable to all law departments.

If law departments want to make good on their claim that they understand the business they serve, their lawyers ought to spend time on the shop floor. The closer in-house counsel are to their clients, in terms of proximity partly but close familiarity mostly, the better they will serve their clients. Get out in the field, lawyers!

It is for this reason that many law departments invite clients to speak at law department retreats (See my post of May 21, 2007 on law-department retreats.).

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