The corporate legal department as a strategic weapon?
Harvard Business School Professor Constance Bagley thinks so. In a recent interview in HBS Working Knowledge, Professor Bagley argues that companies should proactively use the law, and by extension, their in-house lawyers.
Professor Bagley’s interview coincides with her recently published book, “Winning Legally: How Managers Can Use the Law to Create Value, Marshal Resources, and Manage Risk.”
The Professor notes that management, up to the CEO, needs to understand the legal dimensions of operating the modern business. In addition, she has some thoughts on the lawyer’s role as well:
“Lawyers advising firms or acting as in-house counsel need to learn enough about the general practice of management that they can communicate effectively with the management team. A lawyer who can’t read an income statement or understand the rudiments of strategy is far less able to help the non-lawyers on the team consider alternate goals or ways of achieving them.
“Our law schools need to do more in this area by offering courses in accounting, internal controls, and strategy. They are as important for a business lawyer as courses in civil procedure and evidence are to litigators. Practicing lawyers need to read the business press more widely and take advantage of executive education opportunities to increase their business acumen.”
I find Professor Bagley’s comments about law schools in this context particularly noteworthy. The Professor is in the minority of law professors in that she has experience in a corporate private practice (with the law firm Bingham McCutchen). Most law schools have nothing like a “corporate practice” class akin to trial practice or moot court.
The entire interview is definitely worth a close reading. I’m going issue a rev. 2.0 of my list for Santa to include Professor Bagley’s book (that move may bump this from the list–darn).
Any effective use of law as a strategic weapon would require alignment between in-house and outside counsel. Doing this effectively under the reigning billable hour model is a perennial challenge for today’s general counsel. Tomorrow, an interview with a leader behind a new initiative that applies technology to this challenge in an innovative and cost-effective manner when the Wired GC again goes…