Why, as General Counsel, You’ll be Depending More and More on Legal Managers

It’s a well-known fact that those in the legal profession didn’t graduate law school all set to be great administrators.  In fact, attorneys are the first to admit that they are not office managers.  Yet lawyers work in offices and, more important, they service clients who work in offices.   In their own firms, lawyers interact happily with administrators; these have long been a part of Big Law.  When lawyers are acting as General Counsel, however, they’d be equally well served by an inside liaison within the company; someone who “gets” both the legal and business worlds.  Enter Legal Administrators, or Legal Managers.  

Since the 1970’s, says a recent posting in Law.com’s Corporate Counsel, this idea has been bandied about.  But what’s really brought the concept of Legal ‘insiders” to the fore has been the economic squeeze of these last few years—it’s been especially hard on corporate America and its legal counsel.   

“Executives are insisting that business divisions pare expenses, stretch their budgets and manage more effectively,” says the post.  “Law Departments aren’t exempt.”   Although statistics aren’t available, it’s been widely touted that businesses these days are investing in what’s  seen as a crucial part of legal management–that is, managers or legal administrators.  

“These are people who are not necessarily seen or heard outside of the legal department, but they weld a tremendous amount of power,” says Susie Hackett, general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel.     

The groundswell started in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and in the last decade, aided by technology, their importance in law departments was solidified.  When electronic billing started to be used in widespread fashion in 2002, there was a definite need for someone to oversee the arena.  “Suddenly law departments were able to analyze their bills and extract metrics,” says Suzanne Hawkins, who was senior counsel for legal operations for the mammoth-sized General Electric Company for seven years.   

Do you need to have a certain number of inhouse lawyers for an administrator to pay off?  Some advisors say you need 50, others say any department with over 20 lawyers is a candidate for an LA.  “Sometimes the potential savings may justify the position”.  Companies will start off tapping a lawyer part-time and then delve into the idea of bringing a manager on full-time for the completion of a task.  

Some of what a manager handles is a lot of “process management”, says one veteran LA–figuring out how to get what you need.  You might  manage facilities, legal secretaries, tech support, overseas operations and outside legal expenses. Sometimes you have to shepherd the company through legal integrations after mergers.  

So how do these LA’s see lawyers?  Attorneys are “focused on their responsibilities and the needs of their clients”, says one.  

Why don’t companies just hire a lawyer?  Again, lawyers aren’t trained to be managers and simply may not want to take these tasks on…unless they are ready to master business details and “herd cats” (not as easy as it sounds).   As for the non-lawyer legal managers that most companies are hiring these days, these “insiders” must acquire a knowledge of the legal world and “a very thick skin”.  At first, LA’s aren’t always welcomed into the legal fold but, within a firm, new hirees usually are able to discern pretty quickly that these managers merit “the support [they] have on the leadership team, of which [they are] an integral part”.   To read more, go to:  http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202480436823&The_Insiders  


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