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Some managerial consequences of a large and widely-distributed legal department

The law department of United Technologies has approximately 275 in-house lawyers.  Aside from those based at the company’s headquarters in the United States, approximately 250 work from 79 locations and 20 countries!  This information on geographic spread comes from GC Insights: What Multinational General Counsel Value Most (ACC 2012, supplement to ACC Docket) at 40.  For legal departments with many lawyers dispersed, what sorts of management challenges arise?


You need to stress clear communication.  You need to be cognizant of language limitations for some of your lawyers (See my post of April 27, 2005: second languages required for Kodak lawyers; Aug. 26, 2006: Mary Kay and poly-linguists among its lawyers; April 27, 2007: knowledge of a foreign language helps for job rotations; April 26, 2008: managing lawyers who do not speak English as a primary language; Jan. 11, 2009: reasons to hire your own lawyer for an overseas office; and Aug. 13, 2009 #5: translate only key provisions of contracts in a foreign language.).


You need to keep widely-different time zones in mind when you schedule calls.


You need more technology to keep in touch, to share knowledge, and to communicate.  Video-conferencing comes to mind, but also wikis and law department intranets and video cams.


You need to work harder at articulating standards, shared culture, and expected ways of working.  If you rotate lawyers in the field back to the main campus, that helps (See my post of Aug. 4, 2007: Rhodia’s practice of job rotations.).  So do Centers of Excellence.


You need skilful and tolerant talent management as there will be different educational backgrounds, aspirations, work experiences, not to mention management styles.   Compensation differences can be thorny to resolve.


You need to recognize and cope with the inevitable tensions between “Headquarters” and “the field.” (See my post of June 17, 2008: steps headquarters lawyers can do to keep field lawyers feeling part of the team; and July 8, 2011: tensions between HQ and field lawyers.).


You need to accept more travel, if only to periodic meetings of all or some of the lawyers.

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