ALM Properties, Inc.
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Eye of the Storm
For the second year in a row, I'm writing this note in my usually comfortable home office. It's not by choice; Hurricane/Superstorm/whatever Sandy did her nasty work in my neighborhood and in the New York City area, and I can't really get anywhere. Our editorial offices, in any event, are shut down because of a massive blackout in Lower Manhattan, where we're located.
So I have a fair amount of time to thinkmaybe too much (as in, why does the next block have power and we don't?). But it's given me some extra time to peruse our latest legal department benchmarking survey and, not coincidentally, think about the work you, our readers, do day in and day out.
First, the survey. In last year's version, we saw a group of lawyers who were working full blast, but generally content with their lot in life. Unlike their law firm counterparts, they were not forced to endure mass layoffs, or scramble for business to keep those still employed working productively. Life was moderately stressful, in other words, but what else is new?
This year, however, we see how the stress that was felt elsewhere in the profession has come to visit corporate counsel life, too. The findings are pretty stark. A majority said their workload increased at least 10 percent, with one in 14 lawyers saying their workload has increased by more than 30 percent.
They've come under greater pressure to contain costs, too. General counsel at large enterprises almost to a person have to show that they're spending less on outside counsel, or at least show that they've winnowed the number of firms they use. Convergence, in other words, is more than an aspirational goal.
All of this shows that the in-house legal department, once the place where lawyers went to seek a better work/life balance, isn't immune anymore from the pressures elsewhere. All that the convergence really means is that a lot of corporate counsel are doing work that they once farmed out, often at great expense. And they have to constantly keep justifying to senior management what they do. Happily, though, they can spread the pain to those outside counsel, who are under more scrutiny than ever before.
So, what does it mean? Our readers are working harderbut they're also getting better and better at sussing out what is important, and what isn't. In one small example we've heard about, a retail giant's general counsel realized that her lawyers didn't have to comb through every single Sunday sales brochure.
But it's not all crushing workload and stress. We also can discern another facet in your work lives, and Sandy's damage has crystallized it, unfortunately. Our online version, CorpCounsel.com., has been running stories of how in-house counsel have been integral to disaster recovery programs. They're generalists, doing everything from supervising data recovery to collaborating on relocation plans in the event that offices need to relocate. It's added work, to be surebut it's also why many lawyers choose to go in-house. Stock options are nice, but being an integral part of a business and its strategy makes it worthwhile.
We're sure that other examples abound. We'd like to hear about them. Write me at the address below; we'd like to see how you're working smarter, and what you can share with your counterparts elsewhere.