In-House DuPont Lawyers Post Profit
Posted Oct 2, 2007 2:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
Like many corporations, DuPont Co. spends a lot of money on its in-house law department. The department's annual budget was about $230 million last year. However, unlike most corporations, the Wilmington, Del.-based chemical giant has been getting more than it pays for. The company's in-house counsel brought in $290 million last year, a hefty profit that accounted for more than 1 percent of DuPont's revenue.
That result may be difficult to duplicate on a regular basis, because it included a $92 million settlement with the company's insurance carriers over asbestos liability. However, a major focus for DuPont's in-house legal department is to continue to bring in big bucks for the company. Its target this year is $100 million, reports Bloomberg.
To do so, in-house lawyers consider financial incentives when deciding what legal matters to prioritize, the news agency reports. "DuPont lawyers are scouring files for potential contract claims or signs of anticompetitive behavior that may lead to antitrust damages." Patent infringement claims, recovering bad debts that had previously been written off and retaining outside lawyers willing to work on a contingency-fee basis also can add a lot to the bottom line.
The company has a lawyer committee whose job is to identify ways to recover money and estimate how much the legal department can be expected to return annually.
"We've asked them to serve as our eyes and ears and identify through whatever means—word of mouth, periodicals, trade press—opportunities where DuPont might advance a claim or where we believe our rights have been perhaps infringed,'' says Thomas Sager, DuPont assistant general counsel. Since 2004, DuPont's law department brought in $630 million, according to Sager, who also provided other figures reported by Bloomberg.
Most in-house legal departments are seen as cost centers, according to Susan Hackett of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Nonetheless, they serve an important function even when it can't be quantified in monetary terms, she says, advising against too great a focus on recovering money in litigation over products created by other corporate divisions. "It's a difficult line they walk if they try to send a message that they are responsible for the underlying value of products and services.''