22 June 2005

Legal Lines in the Sand (in Perspective)

Last night, after writing yesterday's post about working as an in-house attorney, I chanced to read the following passage in Robert K. Massie's excellent history of the British and German navies during World War I, Castles of Steel (emphasis added):

[O]nly twelve new destroyers and twelve new submarines had been ordered. [First Sea Lord John "Jacky"] Fisher considered this grossly inadequate and convened the November 3 meeting to change course. His most urgent concern was the construction of submarines; that same day he placed orders with British shipbuilders for an additional twenty. Then, staring at the Admiralty Director of Contracts, he threatened to "make his wife a widow and his house a dunghill if he brought paper work or red tape into the picture; he wanted submarines, not contracts . . . . If he did not get them within eight months, he would commit hara-kiri." At this [Commodore Roger] Keyes, who was present, made the mistake of laughing. Fisher turned on Keyes "with a ferocious glare, and said, 'If anyone thwarts me he had better commit hara-kiri too.'"

For those in-house counsel who feel pressured to entirely sacrifice their legal judgements to the business demands of their non-lawyer managers, this should help to put things into perspective. Yes, the business and legal objectives we seek to accommodate can be difficult at times to balance appropriately, but:
  1. Your company is not a sovereign nation -- it's just a gathering of people with a common business purpose;
  2. Despite what your head of sales told you at your last management retreat or company meeting, you are not really at war for your very survival; and
  3. He may be scary, but your CEO is not as scary as Jacky Fisher.

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