ONE OF THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING THE NOTE FOR THIS
issue is to say something unique. Our criteria for our
Best Legal Departments remain pretty constant. We’re
looking for something special. It is, or should be, a
given that a modern legal function does all the things
that it should do. You can summarize it by saying that
it defends the company’s interest and helps guide its
strategy in ways that comport with the written letter and
spirit of the law. For the past decade, we’ve been trying
to find the departments that, in the words of consultant
Rees Morrison, “punch above their weight.”
But then I started to really think about what “spe-
cial” means, and what is involved in punching above
that weight. Coincidentally, I got to sit around a table in
April with a few general counsel and compliance offi-
cers, and it started to click. Here’s what I think—to be
an in-house lawyer means being more than being “just”
a lawyer. Working in a company or a nonprofit adds a
layer of work and thought to the job, hence the headline
above this column.
Looking back on the zillion issues I’ve worked on
here at Corporate Counsel, I started to drift toward one
of my first experiences. After a few years as an editor
and writer, I had a stint as an IT manager, modernizing
the publishing systems of this magazines and others at
ALM, our parent company. But I started
to crave working with words again,
My first job for the magazine (yes,
at the start of this century it was
print-only) was to inter-
view Ben Heineman
of General Electric Co.
about a management
theory then in vogue,
Six Sigma. I read up
on what it was (and
I will summarize it
quickly for you, if you ask politely). It was a little daunt-
ing; Ben’s reputation was huge, and when my editor
gave me the assignment, I got the feeling that we were
playing a game of hot potato.
Thankfully, the interview came off nicely. But I got a
firsthand look at how a shrewd general counsel can do
the legal job, yet add something to it by adapting to his
company’s culture and incorporating business theory
into that department’s practice.
In a sense, that’s what our winners all do. They do
what lawyers do, guiding litigation, defending the company’s intellectual property, etc. But they work within
a framework that’s very different from the law firms
many of them came from. They create an interesting,
and successful, hybrid. They’re savvy about operations,
whether in their own department or those of nonlegal
subsidiaries across the globe. They know how to manage budgets, allocate resources and deploy people.
Speaking of people, they train them well and nurture
their careers. They’re public-spirited, doing pro bono
work and looking beyond their comfort zones for the
best colleagues to work with.
Every year, we find success stories—groups of attorneys who are creative, hardworking and dedicated.
Turn to page 47 to read about them.
Speaking of dedicated, I’d like to give a shout-out to
executive editor David Hechler, who guides this process
patiently and methodically. He reminds me when I have
to make a decision, he puts all the nomination forms on
our cloud (we read every submission), and he helps our
reporters through the process. Thanks, David.