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Tucked away in the restful smoky Mountain burg of Kingsport, Tennessee — about 85 miles northeast of Knoxville — Eastman Chemical Company attracts lawyers ready to set awhile and enjoy a full life. The area boasts solid public schools, room for air ballooning, and easy access to fertile fishing grounds. The company also takes care that families are provided for: In the summer, kids are invited to play baseball and softball on company fields. A company credit union makes it easier to secure a loan for that second car. And a lawyer’s salary goes a long way in Appalachia. “The only scary thing is that if you get laid off, there’s nothing else you can do here,” says Jonathan Wood, an attorney in Eastman’s intellectual property group and father of two. “You really have to move.” The threat of life disrupted swept through the legal department last October. Eastman had remained insulated from the corporate downsizing of the 1990s. But the company — which manufactures more than 400 chemicals, plastics, and fibers — saw its net income drop 81 percent, to $48 million, in 1999. When management announced plans for the first large-scale layoff since the company was spun off from Eastman Kodak in 1994, in-house lawyers were sent into an autumnal funk. “It was a real downer,” says Harry Gwinnell, head of the IP group. “The uncertainty was maddening. It was so countercultural to Eastman, and a bit of a shock to think [the company] would do something like this. There was a tense atmosphere afterwards. It left a bad aftertaste.” The companywide restructuring and a change in corporate leadership rattled the Eastman enclave. Vice president, general counsel, and secretary Theresa Lee says that, with businesses merging and new groups forming, lawyers were left with “unanswered questions about how it would work, about who was responsible for what.” As it turned out, no lawyers were laid off. Former general counsel Harold Henderson, only one year from retirement, stepped into an executive adviser role. One lawyer chose to retire, while two others have sought adventure elsewhere. And Eastman lawyers have started to adjust. Gwinnell says that they are beginning to feel that the shake-up was a onetime deal. Yet there seems to be some concern that the business end now sees the legal department as less important. Only 45 percent of this year’s respondents to the Quality of Life survey said they felt that they were a part of the business team or that business-side people sought their advice. That’s down from 82 percent last year, and compares poorly with an overall average of 80 percent. (Eleven attorneys, which is half of the department, responded this year, while 22 of 29 did last year.) So even as Eastman’s business climate intensifies (there are half a dozen e-commerce ventures in the works, and the pressure to increase profits is on), Lee might catch a few lawyers gazing out the window, thinking of the kids at home: Only 73 percent of this year’s respondents found their work interesting or very interesting, as compared with 91 percent last year. “There are days when you worry that you’ve lost a bit of your edge,” says Brian Henry, a senior counsel in the corporate group who came from the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., five years ago. “It’s not so much of an intellectual exercise as [I had] at the SEC or a big firm.” And although Lee worked her way up the legal ladder — she started as a corporate attorney at Eastman 12 years ago — respondents say that there are limited opportunities for advancement in the department. “But,” Henry says, “people don’t come here for that.” Apparently not. Eastman attorneys echo the philosophy of company founder George Eastman, who said, “What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.” All the respondents said they were happy with the balance in their lives. “You have to change your frame of reference,” Henry concludes. “In terms of what’s most important to me — my faith and my family — I’m closer to living the life I want to live.” Like his colleagues, Henry is not looking to leave Kingsport anytime soon.

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