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A whopping two-thirds of Lowe’s lawyers reported “outstanding” relationships with their clients. Describe the overall relationship between lawyers and clients at your company Sears Lowe’s Very Poor 0% 0% Poor 4 0 Average 29 18 Above Average 63 18 Outstanding 4 64 Ctober IS show-and- tell time at Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s legal department. At their annual autumn retreat, each of the retailer’s 80 in-house lawyers have to describe their jobs to the group, “but they’ve got to do so in song or skit form,” says Anastasia Kelly, the company’s general counsel of three years. Beyond stirring up stage fright, Kelly sees another purpose to the amateur night: Giving Sears’s large, decentralized legal department a sense of solidarity. The need for a strong departmental identity is greater now than in recent years, say the lawyers at Fortune 1000 companies who responded to our 2002 Quality of Life Survey. The events of the past year, from last September’s terrorist attacks to the spate of corporate scandals, prodded employees to reevaluate their priorities. In this new climate, respondents said, compensation took a backseat to such intangibles as corporate culture, clients they respect, and interesting work. Those reshuffled priorities often favored smaller in-house legal departments, which were better equipped than their larger counterparts to respond quickly to employees’ new concerns. That trend was particularly noticeable when comparing the data from retail giants Sears and Lowe’s Companies, Inc. The two compete in the same market, but are strikingly different. Lowe’s has found a niche as a home improvement specialist, while Sears’s all-purpose, department store model tries to sell all things to all people. Revenues at Lowe’s are growing at a rate of 21 percent a year, while Sears has spent the past few years slashing budgets and jobs in an attempt to regain its financial footing. Sears’s size carries over to its legal department. The company has 80 lawyers to 14 at Lowe’s, despite sales of $41 billion that are just twice as high. Yet bigger isn’t better when it comes to quality of life issues: 100 percent of the Lowe’s lawyers surveyed rated the interest level of their work, intradepartmental collegiality and colleagues’ competence as above average or outstanding-results that were noticeably better than Sears’s. Moreover, 73 percent of Lowe’s lawyers expressed strong respect for their law department’s management (versus just 37 percent at Sears) and 100 percent of Lowe’s attorneys (versus 43 percent at Sears) gave above average remarks to their relationships with the retailer’s outside counsel. And although nearly 90 percent of Sears’s attorneys reported that they were looking for a better work-life balance when they first went in-house, just over half said they ultimately found it at the store “where America shops.” Keeping It Lean At Lowe’s Staying trim has paid off for the legal department of Wilkesboro, North Carolina-based Lowe’s. It had one in-house lawyer, current assistant GC Gaither Keener, for more than a decade. Then, in the late 1990s, it began adding a few lawyers per year. That slow growth-there’s no slack in the department-means the lawyers feel more secure about their jobs. “We’re a very lean company,” remarks GC Stephen Hellrung. “We view ourselves to be a low-cost provider of goods to our customers, and that attitude . . . extends to our legal department.” That strategy has led to a tightly knit band of attorneys who say they feel engaged by their work and connected to their company and clients. All of Lowe’s lawyers gave their department superior marks for collegiality-one describing colleagues as “down to earth.” That attitude stretched upward to management, which nearly three-quarters of respondents ranked as above average. Keener credits a law department structure that stresses individual responsibility and freedom. “Our lawyers don’t get pigeonholed; they have the opportunity to be leaders of their divisions, and they have great input in advising the client.” Other factors contributed to the lawyers’ job satisfaction. Lowe’s survey respondents say that the most interesting legal work stays in-house; much of the drier stuff goes to a network of local firms with which the company has slowly built up relationships. The system, by all accounts, works extremely well: Lowe’s lawyers ranked their satisfaction in working with clients and outside counsel significantly higher than did Sears’s lawyers. If there is one chink in Lowe’s strong reputation, it’s compensation. Although “it’s generally more fun to work at a high-flying company,” according to Hildebrandt International legal department consultant Rees Morrison, the thrill is only meaningful, he says, if employees feel included in their employer’s success. Despite across-the-board bonuses for all Lowe’s respondents, only 18 percent of the retailer’s lawyers ranked their compen-sation package above average, as compared to 50 percent surveywide. Yet in the end, says James Wilber, a legal department consultant at Altman Weil, Inc., money only means so much. Employees may gripe about compensation, “but as long as they’re in a range of reasonableness in terms of competitiveness, other factors-like challenging work and whether their careers are progressing-become much more important.” Sears’s Weight Problem At Sears, compensation isn’t a major concern, but other long-standing quality of life issues are. For more than a decade, the 116-year-old, Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company has faced grueling competition from general discount chains, such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and from the new breed of home improvement “big box” superstores, such as Lowe’s. In 2002, Sears trimmed 5,000 jobs and launched an ambitious overhaul that included excising unprofitable product lines and relying on its strengths: tools, appliances, and a new line of home decorating centers. “All our stores are being reconfigured,” says GC Kelly, “and we just went through a huge reorganization of our salaried workforce.” The restructuring has affected the mood in all departments, including legal: A third of Sears’s lawyers fear losing their jobs in a department that saw the “reduction of a handful of positions” in the last year, according to the company. Financial rewards have assuaged some of the anxiety: 54 percent of Sears respondents ranked the company’s compensation as above average. A varied workload has also helped improve morale. Meeting the complex challenges of Sears’s layoffs and spin-offs actually spiced up the job for some respondents: “I love the interesting work and the day-to-day challenges,” gushed one Sears lawyer, while another praised the company’s “diverse and varied” operations. But the in-house lawyers still had plenty of gripes. One complained about “bureaucratic obstacles,” and an emphasis on “measurable metrics rather than quality of work and value.” Just 46 percent rate their department’s collegiality above average, compared to 77 percent survey-wide. Survey re-spondents also noted Sears’s zeal in bringing as much work in-house as possible. But it’s debatable whether that’s made the department more visible inside the company. In fact only 25 percent of Sears’s attorneys (versus 45 percent of Lowe’s respondents) considered themselves part of the business team. And only 4 percent of Sears’s attorneys gave their relationships with clients a top ranking. Kelly responds, “Opportunities aren’t coming up the way they were when we were being poached by technology companies, but we’re very focused on giving people choices.” The only problem, as our results show, is that choice may matter less than an exciting and challenging work environment.

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