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Fifteen months ago, I was race-walking my regular four-mile loop in Central Park (no one will ever mistake me for a jock). I knew that I’d be attending a meeting with my publisher in a few days to talk about our editorial plans for 2006. I’d been musing for a while about some formal way to recognize in-house law departments. As I walked the modest hills in the park, I mapped out a plan. In 2006, Corporate Counsel would name the best legal department of the year. We’d send out a lengthy survey to the Fortune 500 law departments. Then we’d pick a winner based on those results and supplemental CC reporting. When the completed forms came in last winter, we were pleased with how detailed and candid the responses were. As you know, we published our results in our May issue. On October 25, I handed out awards to the winner, Ford Motor Company, and the three runners-up: BellSouth Corporation, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, and Microsoft Corporation. The award presentation was part of The American Lawyer Awards, a gala held by our sister publication to honor some of the legal field’s lifetime achievers. At the dinner I sat with the Ford team. They told me how much the award meant to them, their colleagues, and the company’s top brass. Ford’s CEO attended the department’s celebratory party a few months back. And he sent out a companywide e-mail congratulating the 300 lawyers on the honor, saying that Ford needs more successes like this as it works through one of the darkest periods in the automaker’s history. Best Legal Department has now become an annual event at the magazine. Later this fall, we’ll send out survey forms for the 2007 Best Legal Department awards. They will go to the general counsel of the Fortune 500, and (because many of you asked for it) to the top lawyers at the 250 biggest private companies. We look forward to another year of healthy competition, and the opportunity to reward more terrific work. While Best Legal Departmenthonors the achievement of an entire law department, our Trailblazers package, in this issue, celebrates the work of specific in-house counsel. This year we looked at four company lawyers who created novel programs from scratch. They are: Pfizer Inc’s Laura Kibbe. She is at the vanguard of a new trend: appointing an in-house attorney to create and run an electronic data discovery program instead of outsourcing it. The Bank of New York’s Matthew Biben. He was hired in the wake of a money laundering scandal to put a cutting-edge compliance program in place. Thanks to his efforts, the bank avoided a potentially disastrous federal prosecution. Exelon Corporation’s William Von Hoene, Jr. The utility’s top lawyer leans on his outside counsel to create and help support pro bono initiatives for the company’s lawyers. Exelon lawyers beat the 50 percent department participation goals set by the Pro Bono Institute, something few businesses have done. Drexel University’s GC, Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III. His boss, the president of the university, wanted a law school, fast. So Oxholm sped into action, hiring faculty, setting curricula, and renting classroom space in 18 months. The law school opened its doors this fall. For a full report on these innovative thinkers and doers, click here.

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