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Having revolutionized Internet search, cloud computing, advertising technology, and mobile phone operability (through the development of the Android mobile phone operating system), Google has yet another feather to put in its cap. Last month Corporate Counsel named Google as having the best legal department in its annual (since 2006) “Best Legal Department” competition. The award was given upon conclusion of an evaluation process that began with Corporate Counsel soliciting nominations from legal departments across the country. The evaluating committee then reviewed responses to a form asking about internal operations, litigation strategy, outside firm management, and the use of technology. Being a technology company, I would surmise that Google’s legal department scored especially well in the last category. As a tie breaker, Corporate Counsel states that pro bono programs and diversity efforts often tip the scales in favor of a particular candidate.
So what sets Google’s legal department apart? In his article describing Google’s legal department, David Hecler interviewed several members of the legal department who provided their impressions about what sets Google apart. Factors include the relatively young age of the company (12 years) resulting in a legal department unencumbered by stuffiness and tradition, a collaborative culture that one attorney referred to as an “open style” in both heirarchy and architecture, and a pioneering attitude toward litigation–one Google litigator stated that because technology often outpaces corresponding developments in the law, he rarely has to read cases beyond what Google itself has previously litigated.
Are the legal departments at technology companies better than those at non-technology companies? That question is open to debate, though it is interesting to note that three of the previous six winners named by Corporate Counsel have been technology companies (2011: Google; 2010: Microsoft; 2008: Qwest Communications). The other three winners have been Ford in 2006, General Electric in 2007, and Hartford Financial Services Group in 2009.
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