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Visit Nike, Inc.’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters at 4 a.m., as the deadline approaches to file 10-K and 10-Q reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Associate general counsel John Coburn III, the company’s only in-house securities lawyer, is likely to be in his office, reviewing documents, badly in need of sleep. It wasn’t always like this. In 1991 the sports-addicted attorney took a job that seemed to be the next best thing to being starting point guard for Portland’s Trailblazers. At Nike, the giant maker of athletic shoes and sports wear, the perks include generous vacation time, support for local teams (for every hour Coburn spends coaching his son’s Little League team, Nike donates money to the league), an opportunity to meet Nike spokesmen like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and free Trailblazers tickets. Coburn joined a legal staff of six who served the needs of the company and its 5,300 employees. Twelve years later, Nike still offers these perks. But now the business is 23,000 employees strong. Its revenues have mushroomed from $3 billion to $11 billion. And it has signed seemingly every celebrity athlete to do promotions, cracked down on the counterfeit sneakers trade abroad, and begun � like all public companies � to grapple with the consequences of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law. Despite this enormous growth one thing remains the same � Nike’s decision not to have a big in-house legal staff. “We try to keep the department lean, which pleases our CFO,” Coburn says. The bigger company and additional responsibilities mean that the lawyer and his now 18 colleagues are working longer and harder. Coburn says he’d like more in-house help. “Increase the number of business attorneys,” he wrote in response to a question in Corporate Counsel‘s 2003 Quality of Life survey, requesting the one change he’d make to his company’s law department. But even with the extra workload, Coburn, 41, says he’s not unhappy. In fact, he says he loves working at Nike, and adds, “I hope I’m here until I retire.”

Still Satisfied For the past five years, Corporate Counsel has surveyed in-house lawyers about their on-the-job contentment. We’ve asked them about a broad range of workplace issues, from the interest level of their work, and perception of in-house lawyers in companies today, to their satisfaction with their outside counsel. This year, for the first time, respondents were permitted to answer anonymously on the magazine’s Web site; some of the 1,010 respondents, including Coburn, agreed to follow-up interviews [see "Methodology: Surveying the In-house Bar"]. We also asked respondents to rate various aspects of their work life on a sliding scale, from “very poor” to “outstanding.” This year 71 percent rated their job satisfaction level as “outstanding” or “above average,” while 85 percent gave the same ratings to the interest level of their work. See “Good People Going Nowhere?” The responses to the 2003 survey show � as in previous years � that in-house life brings with it a high degree of satisfaction. The work is interesting; corporate counsel respect their law department colleagues and get along well with clients. But there’s one big exception to this generally happy picture. In an open-ended question, we asked whether life has gotten better or worse this past year. Nearly half of the attorneys participating in the survey responded that it was worse. The number one reason they gave was overwork. “We Asked, You Told”. Frederick Krebs, executive director of the recently renamed Association of Corporate Counsel, formerly the American Corporate Counsel Association, says he is not surprised by the complaints. He notes that his Washington, D.C., group’s polling of several thousand lawyers also shows that “stress points are showing up.” Still, Krebs emphasizes the good things that come with in-house life, such as teamwork and a close working relationship with clients. In fact, company lawyers in our survey responded that a large part of their job satisfaction came from the respect they get from their clients. Asked to choose the statement that best describes how corporate clients see their role in a company, 42 percent of in-house lawyers chose “my advice is sought and respected,” 28 percent opted for “I am part of the business team,” and 9 percent agreed that “I am a leading voice in determining strategy.” Besides respect from the business side, survey respondents said there’s a high degree of collegiality within the legal department. Seventy-four percent rated the relationships within their law departments as “above average” or “excellent,” compared to 77 percent last year, and 70 percent two years ago. “The Dish On The Departments.”

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