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Amorphous Support Services

2008 January 30
by John Wallbillich

Sometimes outside counsel ask me why so many GCs seem preoccupied with costs. What about results? What about the best in legal services? What about covering your @ss?

Well, I submit as Exhibit A an opinion piece in the Financial Times by Luke Johnson, chairman of UK’s Channel 4 and founder of Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm.

Mr. Johnson’s article is entitled “The truth about the HR department,” and at first blush it appears as yet another screed against the intrepid souls in HR:

The brilliant Avis boss Robert Townsend in his book Up the Organisation suggests firing the entire personnel department. Indeed, I have radically downsized HR in several companies I have run, and business has gone all the better for it.

But before in-house counsel can get complacent, Mr. Johnson expands his field of view:

HR is like many parts of modern businesses: a simple expense, and a burden on the backs of the productive workers. Other divisions that can become the enemy include IT, legal and marketing. They don’t sell or produce: they consume. They are the amorphous support services.

Ouch.

To complete the connect-the-dots exercise on operating-related legal services: to someone with Mr. Johnson’s DNA, if you are retained by one of the “amorphous support services,” guess what you are by association?

So if your friendly neighborhood GC seems like a one-note-band on costs (and trying to master another note, demonstrating value), try to be a little understanding. Mr. Johnson may be the CEO in the office down the hall. And he just called that very GC into his office after reading the revised forecast for outside services.

Smith! Get in here!

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