ALM Properties, Inc.
Page printed from: Corporate Counsel
Select 'Print' in your browser menu to print this document.
And Now For Something a Little Different
Is anyone watching this season's American Idol? This is not an idle (sorry) question. While it looks the same, except for the judge turnover, it seems to have lost its juice. And just maybe the game has moved on to something edgier. Plus, have you noticed that the runners-up often do better in their careers than the top Idols?
That brings us to our own little equivalent of that now-august competition, our Best Legal Departments award. The more observant among you will have noticed by now that there's an "s" on "department." It's not a typo, it's a subtle tip-off that we've changed our game somewhat, to stay current and valid.
Basically, instead of one top department, we've chosen to honor four.
Why? Part of the answer is philosophical. Actually, most of it. Over the years, many of us here in the newsroom have had spirited discussions with general counsel about the competition. Some have complained that smaller departments got shortchanged, because our judging committee just about always favored big departments that function as full-service law firms. (Or at least they saw it that way.) These big departments, such as those at Microsoft Corporation and General Electric Company, tend to have big technology budgets and robust pro bono programs, and in general can afford to have truly innovative systems and procedures for just about everything. How can a four-person department even begin to compete? Point taken (and you know who you are).
Another reason for the change is logistical. The questionnaire we sent out each year grew in complexity and nosiness, and for those just considering entering the competition, it seemed like too involved a project. We ask lots of questions, and if the odds weren't great, a lot of general counsel seemed to do a cost-benefit analysis and decided that it wasn't worth it. As a result, we were starting to see fewer repeat entriesone department went so far as to tell us that they'd done a big form last year, and not much had changed.
So this year, as suggested by our data guru Rosemarie Clancy (her official title is research editor), we went to a two-step program. We first solicited entries on our Web site and via e-mail blasts, and put up a short, simple form on our site. It asked for basic demographic information, and had one essay questionbasically, "What makes your department so special?"
The simplified form had its desired effect; our entry tally went up fourfold. Executive editor David Hechler did a magnificent job of keeping everyone on time and marshaling the resources to keep the survey going. We read the submissions and settled on a select group of semifinalists. At this point, we sent out a version of the long form. Again, the process worked, presumably because the entrants by this time had more of a stake in the outcome.
In any event, the four winners are a diverse group, from the industries they work for, to their composition, even to their geographic location. (And to those who think we have an eastern bias, there isn't a New Yorker in the bunch.)
Our reporters had a great time embedding with the departments for a couple of days and seeing what makes them tick. And our art crew, led by art director Morris Stubbs, did their usual job of making it all look terrific. We think this year's winners are a pretty good snapshot of the state of the legal department in 2012.