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The storms outside that buffet law departments

Political, social and economic forces gradually but powerfully transform departments. Unlike the decisions of a general counsel or CEO, however, these three tectonic plates shift without being recognized in law departments’ strategic thinking. Here is a glimpse of how the three forces might have effect.

Political. A new administration alters regulations, judicial appointments, and legislative priorities (See my posts of May 15, 2005 generally about legal complexity; as well as on the same topic in more specific applications: June 28, 2005 and Aug. 27, 2005 regarding litigation; Dec. 14, 2005 regarding utilities, and Feb. 16, 2006 regarding tax.). Work and priorities change, and a law department may have to embrace more closely what is generally referred to as government affairs.

Social. Demographic changes mean that generations of workers have different values and differences (See my post of June 13, 2006 on Meyers-Briggs extroversion scores rising.). There are more women graduates from law school and more women in law departments, not to mention more diversity (See my posts of Sept. 4, 2005; Dec. 4, 2005; and July 18, 2006 on diversity.), older lawyers (See my post of March 16, 2006 on long-in-the-tooth veterans and knowledge loss.), more working spouses, and more resistance to overseas assignments (See my post of April 27, 2005 about Eastman Kodak; and Oct. 10, 2005 on ex pat costs.).

Economic. Competition influences workload, types of work and department structure (See my post of April 13, 2006 about Philips and antitrust training.). The spread of business around the globe means outposts of overseas lawyers and more international law (See my post of April 19, 2005 that wonders whether globalization’s effects have been exaggerated.). Technology’s spread means more intellectual property concerns (See my post of Jan. 16, 2006 on Ocean Tomo.), and the opportunity for law departments to make better use of software.

Obviously, treatment of the external forces swirling around law departments is ill-suited for a brief post. The take away from this snippet is that large forces profoundly affect how law departments are and should be managed.

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