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Misguided goal embedded in the oft-used phrase “world-class legal organization”

InsideCounsel, June 2006 at 70, profiles Charles James, the general counsel of Chevron. Looking back on when he joined Chevron in that role, James recalls that “the chairman of Chevron wanted a world-class legal organization and I don’t think he felt had had one.”

CEOs should not blithely say they want a “world-class” legal department. The cost of excellent talent is high (See my post of April 8, 2007 on pay by area of law.). Turnover would be incessant as other companies cherry pick off the shiny maraschinos (See my post of May 20, 2005 about a general counsel’s kirsch of having a very prominent attorney.) The jostling and elbowing among the over-achieving, competitive and egotistical cream-of-the crop would be blood curdling (See my post of Oct. 10, 2005 on competition; and of April 30, 2006 on mentors and threatening successors.). Plus, only a small portion of legal department work needs legal brilliance (See my post of Dec. 5, 2005 on rocket science and of commodity work.). So, if the CEO means by “world class” a plenitude of extraordinary legal talent, the goal is misguided.

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One response to “Misguided goal embedded in the oft-used phrase “world-class legal organization””

  1. Patrick Lamb says:

    Is it possible that “world class” is something measure in terms of team performance rather than as an adjective to each individual’s talent? Just like a basketball team of 5 Michael Jordans would probably be ineffective because of competition for points and glory, a team like Detroit’s current team, which is a nice blend of talent, is effective as a team even if the individual members are not as good as Jordan was. Similarly, a legal department needs to have the right mix of talent, ego, ambition, and dedication. Assembling such a team might be the GC’s greatest challenge.