Simple Sacrifices: Legal Execs Sacrifice for the Good of the Company

These days, it's hard to open any legal publication without immediately reading about how the economy is taking its toll on the legal community. From law firms closing their doors--or at the very least laying off partners, associates and staff--to recent law school graduates struggling to find any semblance of a legal job, the swinging ax doesn't discriminate. Even legal departments are feeling the hit.

In times like these, I admit I've wondered if organizations are truly doing all they can to keep their staffs. So it was refreshing to learn about a sacrifice one high-profile legal exec is making.

A few weeks ago I was having breakfast with Peter Wexler, chief legal officer of Schneider Electric, a multibillion dollar, Paris-based company. He is one of the executives who offers best practices for managing a global legal department in this month's issue (see "Global Guideposts"). Peter, who is based in Rhode Island, travels back and forth to Paris several times a month. I asked him how he adjusted to the time changes and commented, "At least flying business class allows you to sleep a little better." To my surprise, he quickly corrected me--explaining he only flies coach on any business trip, including those overseas. Peter went on to say that he would find it very difficult to justify spending thousands of dollars per ticket when his company is doing all it can to cut costs. "Over the course of a year, that adds up to at least one person's salary," he said. "I'd rather have that employee than a few hours feeling a little more comfortable on a flight. Not to mention, what kind of message would it send to my employees if I was flying first class around the world? It would tell them they should do it too."

Learning that this legal department executive makes sacrifices for the good of his company and leads by example was enlightening to say the least. When the news is dominated by stories about executives taking corporate jets to Washington to beg for billions of dollars, it puts a certain image in the heads of those of us who don't sit at the helm of a large corporate department.

So kudos to all of you who are making sacrifices for the good of your departments. In times like these, seemingly small acts of professionalism go a long way toward getting the economy back on track.

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