Image: Viktor Koen
A couple of years ago, I had lunch with a prominent big-company general counsel and his litigation chief. I'll keep his name out of it, because it was off the record. Besides, my companions were getting into the experience of being in a masculine steakhouse a few yards from the New York Stock Exchange, and were sometimes a little less discreet than they otherwise would be. Maybe it was the influence of the neighboring table, where a couple of old-time stockbrokers were enjoying a pitcher of martinis. (What happens on Wall Street should stay on Wall Street.)
We had a wide-ranging conversation, everything from outside firm gossip to alternative fees. This was at the start of the Great Recession, when Lehman Brothers had just collapsed and no one knew what would happenso fees and spending were a big deal. So was the changing relationship between legal departments and law firms. This GC's day had finally come.
2011 Law Department Metrics Benchmarking Survey:
His colleague sat there listening, occasionally interjecting. Then, at some point, he asked something like (this was off the record, and it's not cool to take notes): "Isn't there a way to, you know, share? We'd love to know what other people are doing, but it's not always easy." He talked about being really busy, and he thought it would best be up to people like me to facilitate the sharing.
That lunch got me thinking. We always did a fair amount of surveying, but conducting them is not without its problems. There are different ways to take a department's pulse, and the easiest way, for us, is just to ask. The problem is, you're busy people, and response rates vary with the kind of info requested, when it's requested (forget about annual report season, department retreat time, or a harvest moon). Then there's involuntary disclosureour GC Compensation Survey is the fruit of that. We love proxy statements, but they only go so far.
Despite the problems, both logistical and conceptual, we won't give up. There's a real needwe editors like a good trend story, you like to know how your counterparts are doing, and your outside firms are warily watching what you're up to.
So here's a first step. Our sibling group, ALM Legal Intelligence, under the leadership of Nigel Holloway, keeps thinking of ways to collate datato find out and quantify what lawyers are doing. And a big part of its mission is to burrow inside legal departments.
You've told us about spending, staffing, and salaries. You've told our surveyors about some of your plans, how you spend that outside counsel budget, and on whom. Or at least how many firms. (Graphs and charts are here [PDF].)
We've summarized some of the findings, with Holloway pointing out what was interesting to him. And then he held a conversation with Jonathan Oviatt, the general counsel of the Mayo Clinic, about the results. One of the most interesting points Oviatt made about gathering survey data like this is that he has to use numbers to do his job. A big part of a GC's job is to manage upward, to justify the department's budget to the CEO and CFO. Studies like the benchmarking surveys help him marshal his arguments and support his work and those of his colleagues.
Stay tuned; we have more on the way. And we're always looking for the best way to convey the info, whether in print, online, or . . . You'll have to wait for the rest.
To purchase the full Law Department Metrics Benchmarking Survey, visit almlegalintelligence.com.
To participate in the 2012 edition of the Law Department Metrics Benchmarking Survey, click here.