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We should court concepts from the law that help us understand management of legal departments

All this time writing mostly for lawyers, being a lawyer myself, trying to improve management for lawyers, it struck me as ironic that I haven’t drawn on fundamental concepts from the law that might help explain what general counsel deal with as managers. A number of legal precepts apply, and in fact touch on hugely important topics. Consider rights and obligations. A mainstay of all legal systems, these complementary concepts also have significance for law departments, as in the scope of a general counsel’s responsibilities (obligations) and the power to intervene where legal or ethical wrongdoing appears (rights). A law department has an obligation to pay for services dlievered and the right to direct how those services are rendered.

Proximity, intention, negligence, and agreement also serve as building blocks of jurisprudence as well as of law department managers. Blame and praise for performance implicitly accept a proximity framework. Intention undergirds any assessment of someone’s performance if the assessment is not solely outcome based (See my post of Dec. 26, 2010: move away from outcome based evaluations.). Negligence concepts apply to sloppy work as well as to sloppy firms and contractual agreements are the lifeblood of internal lawyers. My point: several of the fundamental concepts of the law also bear on the effective management of lawyers.