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A year ago, Sun lawyers were all looking forward to a few fun-filled days of gambling and hobnobbing in Las Vegas. This year they’ll be lucky to get anywhere on the company’s dime. Like most high-tech companies, Sun has been hard hit by the global slowdown in technology spending. For Sun’s 200 lawyers, that means getting by with less. One of the first things to go was this year’s annual retreat, set for September. “The lawyers here all understand that we don’t make any money,” says one in-house lawyer. The uncertainty that comes with being cost centers is just an unhappy fact of life at Sun — just as it is at almost any law department. But with an annual $80 million budget, Sun lawyers know there’s room to cut now that revenues at the software, server, and workstation maker have softened. So far Sun has instituted a hiring freeze, though it had not, as of late June, announced any layoffs. Besides the canceled retreat, the biggest impact has been a drop in morale. For now, life goes on for Sun’s in-house lawyers, all but about 60 of whom are located in the Bay Area (the rest are dispersed throughout Asia and Europe). “There’s just a general feeling that we’ve been through this before,” explains Darryl Payton, a deputy general counsel. GC Mike Morris has organized his department two ways. One group is divided along business lines: Each of Sun’s four principal business groups (software platforms; computer systems; enterprise services; and global sales) has both a general counsel/vice president who reports to Morris and a staff that handles its legal needs. That way, the divergent needs of each business unit are met. Morris also has lawyers who work in what he calls “utilities” — groups that service all business units and the company as a whole on intellectual property, employment, or other specialties. Morris’s credo is that the lawyers are partners with their designated units. As such, they’re expected to attend their divisions’ meetings. For the most part, former and current in-house lawyers give Sun, and Morris in particular, high marks for providing challenging work with good perks. Morris is praised for his lack of pretense, hands-off approach, and open-door policy. “There’s not an air of ‘you’re now talking to the king,’ ” says Payton. But in-house lawyers complain that he doesn’t communicate with the rank and file. Delegating is a double-edged sword, explains David Karras, a former in-house lawyer now on the business side: “ If you’re hands-off, people say, ‘How come there’s not more leadership?’ “ Advancement can also be a problem. Not everyone finds it a good fit. Michele Huff, a former licensing lawyer who is now head of business development at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Kalepa Networks, Inc., says she left the company in 1996 because she felt that she had “gotten as high as I could go.” The way that Sun is organized, she explains, makes it very difficult to advance to the vice president level because that kind of move also entails a bump in salary. High-level promotions aren’t common because “most of the organization thinks that Sun’s legal department is already top-heavy,” says Huff.

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