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Some changes over two decades in the distribution of in-house lawyers by practice area

A survey of 80 US law departments in 1989 classified the lawyers in those departments into eight practice areas. The largest group was “General” (26%) followed by “Intellectual Property” (22%), “International” (11%), and then “Litigation” and “Government” (both at 9%). In the smaller practice areas were “Corporate/Securities” (7%), “Labor” (5%) and “Other” (11%). This data comes from Richard H. Weise, Representing the Corporate Client: Designs for Quality (Prentice Hall 1991), Chapter 3, at 3-Ex-25.

Coincidentally, Corp. Counsel, Dec. 2010 at 87, includes data from 114 law departments (mostly US, I believe based on past surveys) in the latest ALM Legal Intelligence survey. It shows 27 practice areas so the fit with the eight of Motorola is modest. Even so, “Commercial/Contracts” (19%), by far the largest area, may correspond reasonably well to Weise’s “General.” For ALM, “Intellectual Property” (9%) is much less than the Weise survey, but two reasons may account for that. I suspect that Weise’s company, Motorola, invited companies with significant patent activity and, second, many law departments have moved patent prosecution largely to law firms.

As to litigation, the ALM survey breaks out “Personal Injury” (1%) along with “Product Liability/Class Actions (1%) and “Litigation” (11%) so its total of close to 13 percent is larger than the survey 20 years before at 9 percent, but not that far off.

“International” in the ALM survey was much lower, at 2 percent but it does not have nearly the same representation of huge companies as the Motorola survey. Further comparisons become less solid but my point is that the rough distribution of lawyers in-house by the most common practice areas does not appear to have shifted very much.

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