The litigation successes were among several reasons Microsoft was named Best Legal Department of 2010. The department achieved success after having its budget and staff cut for the first time, due to the economic meltdown. The department improved its diversity, it's helped laid-off workers get free computer training, and has represented immigrant children in court. In other words, it has reached out to the community and given back in tough times.
All three legal departments that were selected this year (the other three finalists) had one thing in common: they retooled and achieved great success doing "more with less."
- Finalist: Discover Financial Services
- Finalist: Hewlett-Packard Company
- Finalist: The Williams Companies, Inc.
2009 Net Income: $1.3 billion
General Counsel: Kelly McNamara Corley
Number of In-House Lawyers: 34
Pro's: Doing a lot with very little.
Con's: No formal pro bono program.
Hewlett-Packard Company (HP)
2009 Revenue/Net income: $114.55/$7.66 billion
General Counsel: Robert Holston
Number of In-House Lawyers: 190/425 (worldwide)
Pro's: Good litigation management, excellent pro bono and diversity programs.
Con's: Ad hoc flextime and fixed-fee arrangements.
Why Was It Picked as a Finalist: Retooling of the legal department, reorganization of litigation, and commitment to pro bono and diversity. "This isn't a place lawyers go to retire," said deputy GC Ashley Watson. Today, HP lawyers describe the department as "energized." In the past two years especially, there have been higher work expectations, a boatload of new hires, and ambitious new projects like revamping the company's worldwide system for complying with local laws that have meant more work for newcomers and veterans alike. Changes were not easily made, but today HP's Legal Department stands as one of the best in the country.
2009 Revenue/Net Income: $8.3 billion/$285M
General Counsel: Jim Bender
Number of In-House Lawyers: 39
Pro's: Outside counsel management, discovery, and pro bono efforts.
Why Was It Picked as a Finalist: Williams' legal department was able to do what most talk about, but never get to achieve: to cut its outside legal expenses by about 15 percent. The effort started six years ago, when General Counsel Jim Bender decided to reduce the number of law firms the natural gas company used, and implemented blended-rates (that came as close to fixed rates as can be). Williams's ability to use its data to effectively manage outside counsel is one reason it was chosen as a finalist for Best Legal Department. They've also done a god job implementing a new compliance program and developing a comprehensive approach to discovery. Kudos for a legal department that's done what most hope to achieve , but never quite get to do - make real cuts into outside legal fees.