Why your legal department should carry, and swing, a ridiculously big stick.


Sometimes, people suck. And by sometimes, I mean often. Ethics tend to go out the window when justification between what can benefit individuals versus what can these individuals do to remain ethical is thick enough to blur the lines between right and wrong.

There are times this may happen with peers at your own company, but even more frequently it can happen between your company and another – when people plaster a corporate logo over the other’s face of misfortune and over their own evil grin of unethical gain.

Lately, I’ve found that many companies have to be more leery of their non-competitor neutrals than even their outright competitors. Heck, these days, I work a heck of a lot closer with my competitors than anyone else. And I can’t figure out if that’s sad, progressive, stupid, weird slash unique – or all of the above.

When companies have a chance to work together that aren’t direct competitors – and even sometimes when they are – both should jump at the opportunity if the mutual gain for one another and for the industry as a whole outweighs the mutual trade-offs.

Economies of scale is taught in every graduate MBA program persistently for a reason. Reinventing the wheel – assuming the wheel still works well – is asinine and suicide for your bottom line. That’s why partnerships with non-competitor neutrals should and do make so much sense in any and every industry.

Yet, for some reason I continue to find that these neutrals either never studied the definition of economies of scale or simply ignore it to feed the incessant, addicting desire to stray outside of their core competencies that got them to where they are today. And even more often I’m finding that legal agreements between two neutral parties in these types of scenarios tend to be ignored by the party who didn’t bring it up first.

Today, I experienced this first-hand. Worse – it was completely by random happenstance. I clicked a link in support of growing a neutral’s page view count, and I opened a browser that revealed an exact duplicate – with a different logo – of a project I have worked on for years.

At first, I was furious. The agreement I had in-hand was still valid… Then, I realized something. Their actions had now forced the issue completely out of my hands. What happens next would no longer be up to me.

While I can only speculate, I do know that this, my friends, is exactly why large companies have stacked legal teams. They sit around and wait for these scenarios to occur – as they inevitably do – and they swing their ridiculously big stick so swiftly that the neutral whose grandiose dreams of stripping its faux partner of the proverbial ball to go-it-alone catch a wind – if not a direct hit – so powerful, their memory of that insignificant little legal agreement comes flooding back.

And if neutrals didn’t before understand the benefits of scale, the bills it will incur to provide the same one-off legal defense that the big guys have in-house would quickly bring them up to speed on exactly how fabulous those elusive economies of scale can be.

Bless their neutral hearts because a big stick, when it hits, almost always leaves a mark.

Am I too idealistic? Should all ideas be up for grabs and may the best man win? Or should the legal system be tougher on intellectual property? Want to hear your insights.


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