X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
There’s just one problem with chasing a better life into a corporate law department: The benefits and atmosphere that lead you to choose a specific company are only as durable as the company itself. Case in point: UNUM Corporation. When we launched our Quality of Life Survey in 1999, the responses from UNUM caught our attention immediately. Lawyers at the Portland, Maine-based disability insurance company were an inordinately happy group. This was striking, given that their salaries were almost 30 percent lower than that survey’s average. But such benefits as on-site child care, job sharing, and flexible hours prompted UNUM’s lawyers to give their jobs some of the highest ratings that year. There was just one hitch. UNUM was poised to merge with Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Provident Companies, Inc. — and the two had announced plans to cut operating costs by $130 million. Job retention was obviously the lawyers’ first concern. But what about UNUM’s progressive programs and flexible work environment? Would they disappear in the new megacompany? Two years after the merger closed, we checked with the lawyers at the new entity, UNUMProvident Corporation, to see how their quality of life has fared. There hadn’t been any layoffs in the law department. But eight of the 25 attorneys in the Portland office had left, drawn away in part by the then-strong economy and plentiful opportunities. Based on the survey responses, the lawyers at the merged company are still pleased with their work lives, even if their salaries remain below-market. Although Provident’s GC took over, lawyers rate the combined legal department nearly as high on this year’s survey as UNUM’s alone did two years ago. In 1999 a remarkable 93 percent of UNUM respondents said they would recommend the company to a friend. Two years later, that number has dropped only a bit, to 90 percent. This year lawyers also gave excellent marks to collegiality within the department and their colleagues’ competence. And they give high marks to the management of the department and the relations between lawyers and managers. Their main concerns these days are about compensation and advancement opportunities. At $102,441, the average salary of the 21 respondents (there are 69 lawyers in the department) lags behind the survey’s average by 20 percent. In fact, the salary average at UNUMProvident is at the bottom of the list of the 28 companies that participated in the survey. “It is becoming harder for our attorneys to support their modest lifestyles with their annual compensation,” wrote one; “we are losing attorneys and potential replacements because of this.” Another lawyer bemoaned the “decline in the company stock price over the past few years.” General counsel Dean Copeland, 62, says his goal is to keep salaries apace with the markets where UNUMProvident’s lawyers work — Portland; Chattanooga; Worcester, Mass.; and Columbia, S.C. — but that obtaining salary data there can be difficult. “I would challenge someone who says [salaries are] not competitive,” Copeland argues. “Certainly there is no intention to stay below what is competitive. It makes no sense to lose good people because someone has the perception that we’re out of line with the rest of the market.” He does, however, concede that right after the merger he had to balance his desire to keep salaries competitive against pressure to control expenses. Like many other in-housers, UNUMProvident’s lawyers also worry that there isn’t much room for moving up. “Advancement not likely unless others with seniority leave,” one wrote, adding: “Turnover in legal is very low.” Another lawyer complained about the “lack of opportunity to move beyond current position, unless I relocate to Chattanooga or Portland.” Nevertheless, there were far more positive than negative remarks. Among the 11 lawyers who wrote comments on their surveys, all praised the staff, the work, or the company; a number praised all three. “The people are great to work with. The issues are extremely interesting, and I enjoy the travel,” wrote one. “Excellent colleagues; excellent company,” said another. And yet another cheerleader enthused: “The work is very interesting, and there is a great spirit of collegiality within the law department … an excellent company to work for.” If the lawyers at UNUMProvident are generally pleased with their lot, their happiness has not come without pain. One lawyer observed: “We are still struggling with the merger of cultures.” Although carefully billed by both companies as a “merger of equals,” it soon became obvious that Provident was the dominant partner in the marriage. As part of the deal, UNUM’s chairman and CEO, James Orr III, was to remain with the company until July 2001, when Provident’s J. Harold Chandler would assume both titles. Orr’s departure date first was moved up to July 2000; then he resigned earlier still: in November of 1999. Similarly, the senior management team was to consist of three executives from Provident and three from UNUM. The last of the three executives from the UNUM side recently resigned. Although UNUM’s GC, Kevin Tierney, left shortly after the merger closed, the departures of other senior executives did not radically alter day-to-day operations of the law department in Portland. And perceptions of new boss Copeland were quite favorable. “He told us: ‘If you’re doing good work, you’re not going to see me very much,’ ” recalls a former UNUM lawyer, who left the department only last year. “ He was really, really competent and willing to let good managers in our department run things.” Copeland raked in the compliments on the survey. One respondent wrote: “Our general counsel is as much a ‘good guy’ as he is a competent professional.” And a Portland-based attorney who works as outside counsel to UNUMProvident reported: “I’ve heard that the GC is very well regarded by the business folks. His stature in the company has increased the visibility and stature of the legal division.” Despite all the good feelings, a number of UNUM lawyers decided to leave after the merger. “The merged company was no longer just UNUM, in an emotional way and a legal way too,” says Trevor Hughes, who decided to move to a high-tech company in Massachusetts that offered a bigger salary plus the flexible work environment he’d valued at UNUM. “While many of the policies stayed the same, I think it’s fair to say there was something of a culture shift.” One major shift was that the new company was organized functionally, rather than around products. “That created a huge change,” says Ann Mohnkern, a vice president and assistant general counsel in Portland. “It affected how decisions were made, who your clients are, how you get involved.” Lawyers also had to grapple with having clients in as many as three other cities. “We’re all learning how to practice law over the telephone and the Internet,” says Mohnkern. Plus, she says, “Since the merger, the workload has exploded.” According to Mohnkern, however, the changes have been energizing. “Our practice is, if anything, a lot more exciting,” she says. “It’s very exciting to reinvent how you practice law.” That there was a culture clash is hardly surprising. Both companies are over a century old, and each had a distinct personality befitting its headquarters’ cities. “We’re a midsize, southern, primarily conservative town,” says one Provident lawyer about Chattanooga. “Portland is a seacoast, liberal, diverse community. There were inherent conflicts, and each side had preconceived prejudices.” The contest between the two cities has yet to be fully resolved: Rather than identifying one or the other as its headquarters, the company instead says that it has “home offices” in both towns. Two years out, however, the companies are finally coming together. The stock price has rebounded, to about $29 at press time. Employees on the Provident side of the merger have gained some quality-of-life benefits. They now have a flextime option, and their 401(K) plan has been improved. The on-site day care center in Portland is safe and sound, and the law department offices are about to be renovated. Copeland says UNUM employees were relieved that their informal dress policy wouldn’t change — and the switch to business casual prompted “enormous rejoicing” in Chattanooga. “The notion of a positive working environment is very important, maybe at the top of the list,” says Copeland. Although the process of merging is ongoing, he chooses to stress what has been achieved. “As time goes on,” he says, “we’ve got a new culture.” According to the survey results, that culture means a decent quality of life for UNUMProvident’s lawyers.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.