IN-HOUSE TOM: Chapter 1.2 Cinderellas of the boardroom & denial

I’m writing a book with the working title: IN-HOUSE TOM: a new target operating model for law departments – initially as a series of blogs.

You can follow the full index of blogs as they build here: IN-HOUSE TOM: INDEX

Chapter 1.2 Cinderellas of the boardroom & denial

The first problem with the current in-house target operating model is that:

  • the “C-Suite” frequently treats in-house lawyers as “Cinderellas” of the boardroom
  • lawyers are in denial about this
  • worse, one points this out at one’s peril

After a speech on the oppression of in-house lawyers which I gave at an in-house conference, one lawyer, carefully and in commendably restrained language, gave me written feedback:

“On oppression, it may be that [your] lead language causes a reaction that limits the ability of the audience to give the remainder of the message due consideration…the language of oppression is reserved for slavery and other elements of serious abuse of human rights. This is not something that most lawyers would identify with applying to them and so an instant barrier can come up…Most lawyers would also likely see themselves as individuals within a privileged elite rather than an oppressed body… these absolutes work well with business people who operate in short-hand, for the detail-orientated lawyer they are a point to take exception to…”

That was polite and very helpful. 

But I have received aggressive, if passive, feedback which reassures me that I’m onto something important. 

Both responses leave me with a problem which I hope to resolve while writing this book: how can you help someone who doesn’t feel they need help?

It’s not about lawyers

My immediate answer is that this debate is not about lawyers but about the society they serve.

The reason there is no “disruption” in legal services is that lawyers are debating with themselves as if the issue is about them and not clients, business and society.

Society is unhappy with the legal profession and, ultimately, that’s where the market need in the target operating model lies.

Once society at large “cottons on” to the fact that the practice of commercial law is in many respects, if not all, a “stitch-up” it will start calling for change.

Once society starts calling for change, seriously, things will change. And it will be that and no words of mine that will incentivise lawyers to change their behaviour.

The #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement is an example of society saying “enough is enough”. And Harvey Weinstein is in an orange jumpsuit today. That outcome was as unthinkable five years ago as the notion that lawyers could transform – in its full sense – business, society and their own sense of career fulfilment. 

Meanwhile, I hope to help prepare lawyers for this inevitable outcome. All I ask is that you keep your jury out on my suggestions, analysis and new target operating model construction until the end of the book.

This chapter

This chapter will focus on the evolution of the role of in-house counsel and the evidence which supports my “Cinderella” assertion. 

To be fair to Cinders, when told to scrub the kitchen floor by the Ugly Sisters she didn’t say “Oh ok, do you want me to do the stairs as well?”.

Cinderella wasn’t invited to The Ball (the boardroom) but she did get there, admittedly through processes not set out in any recognisable conduct manual or workflow, and a handsome Prince did save her from her lot.

 Who is “the Prince” here?

Spoiler alert: the “C-Suite” is the Prince. 


Because, as we say in Ireland, the C-Suite knows “on what side its bread is buttered”.

If law firms and law departments came together with the C-Suite in response to society’s tumbrils rolling towards them, as surely they are, everything is possible. 

Ciarán Fenton

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