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Legal specialties aren’t likely candidates for core competencies

Other posts have discussed definitions of core competencies in law departments (See my post of May 23, 2008.) and some consequences of deciding on those competencies (See my post of May 23, 2008.). To complete a triptych of posts, let’s think about one other perspective: Is any specialist lawyer a core-competency lawyer?

Litigation should not be privileged because the unblemished, well-run company will confront little of it.

Employment law is mostly counseling and litigation rather than anything to do with developing talent in a company, so it is not a core competency. Companies hardly yearn for tough HR legal issues.

The same arguments hold for environmental problems and legal issues. A few companies that consume copious resources or produce noxious wastes may encounter difficult and strategic legal problems, but at bottom the companies care about their products, not the legal effluents.

For publicly-traded firms, securities law is required and mostly responsive, but not at all business generating, while anti-trust counsel is both defensive and offensive – for mergers and acquisitions. No company hankers for a good competition-law fracas.

On the other hand, for some companies their law departments give advice and counsel in areas of law that define the company, such as intellectual property or regulatory law. Those are certainly specialized areas of practice and should be considered part of the department’s core competency.

Law departments need to concentrate their expertise in those key areas of legal practice that are crucial to the company’s success. The fortunes of few companies rise and fall on their real estate activities (unless you are a REIT); few companies create shareholder value with environmental strategies (unless you are a remediation firm); none litigate to make profits (unless you are a patent troll). No corporation exists to pollute the countryside, sue and be sued, or cope with discrimination and harassment.

In short, aside from lawyers in some specialty-dependent companies, most specialist lawyers cannot sensibly be included in the circle of core competencies.