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Principal determinants of the number of direct reports to a general counsel

As I write in my blook on law department structure, “In U.S. law departments, the number of direct reports to the general counsel rises gradually with the number of lawyers, but plateaus at around six.” What accounts for the number of reports to any particular general counsel?

Assume a general counsel arrives in a 50-lawyer department with a magic wand to wave and create the best structure of her direct reports. This scenario ignores the powerful forces that shape reporting lines of corporate tradition, size of the law department, and HR policies. That said, here are most of the remaining factors.

Business structure: the number and size of business units that would benefit from an oversight lawyer (indeed, the decision whether to organize the department by legal perspective or by business organization and function).

Legal specialties: the need for teams of specialist lawyers such as litigation, labor, and intellectual property (See my post of May 5, 2008: specialty lawyers with 30 references.).

Role scope: the responsibilities of the general counsel other than legal (See my post of Jan. 29, 2009: role, scope and functions of legal departments with 8 metaposts and 19 references.).

Supervisor requirements: how much time the general counsel is willing to devote to evaluations, mentoring, compensation decisions, and other administrative tasks. As the number of direct reports to a manager increases, the time that the manager can devote to each individual decreases.

Administrator: views of the general counsel on the reporting line of the administrator of the department.

Experience and personal proclivities: the managerial experience of the general counsel, as some want few reports; others accept a dozen or more (See my post of Jan. 30, 2009: deputy general counsel with 11 references.).

Individual situations: younger lawyers need more handholding, high potentials need recognition, long-serving members have earned the report stripe, and egotists compel it.

I have yet to hit upon useful rules of thumb about the number of direct reports to a general counsel (See my post of May 29, 2009: direct reports to the general counsel with 12 references.).

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