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Reporting lines, locations of lawyers, and broader geographic responsibilities

Back in the day, companies thought of their international operations on a country-by-country basis and it made sense to have a local lawyer or two in-country report to the general manager of that country.

Times change, as pointed out in E. Leigh Dance, Bright Ideas: Insights from Legal Luminaries Worldwide (Mill City Press 2009) at 91 in a chapter by Paul Smith, a partner at Eversheds. Global companies have reorganized into larger regions of oversight. “We saw that companies were organizing themselves on bigger geographies, such as Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).” That shift at the client level has caused shifts in legal departments in several respects.

Generalizing very broadly, the business shift to larger geographic regions has been followed in legal departments by shifts in at least six management phenomena. We have seen more:

  1. dispersion of lawyers away from the “headquarters” as business executives disperse (See my post of Jan. 16, 2009: physically decentralized law departments with 13 references.);

  2. locations of lawyers in hub offices (See my post of Sept. 16, 2008: foreign locations of in-house counsel with 11 references.);

  3. centralization of reporting by practicing lawyers (See my post of Aug. 5, 2008: decentralized reporting with 7 references.);

  4. matrix reporting (See my post of July 24, 2009: IBM’s reporting structure; and July 4, 2009: solid line and matrix with 11 references and 3 metaposts.);

  5. travel by leaders of the department (See my post of July 16, 2009: globe-trotters need stamina; and July 17, 2009: frequent flyers and global management.); and

  6. efforts at integrating the members of the dispersed departments (See my post of March 1, 2009: creating a one-department culture with 7 posts and 5 metaposts.).

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