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In-house legal slims down

2010 Directory of In-House Counsel

2010 Directory of In-House Counsel

Slumping revenue and the sale of a major St. Louis company took their toll on the attorney rolls at some of Missouri’s largest corporate legal departments in 2009.

The changes are reflected in Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s updated directory of in-house counsel. Three St. Louis companies that announced layoffs and buyouts -agriculture company Monsanto Co., energy company Ameren and brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos.- reported fewer attorneys this year than for last year’s directory.

Anheuser-Busch, which was acquired in November 2008 by Belgium-based InBev, showed the steepest decrease. The St. Louis brewer now has 33 attorneys listed, down from 47 in the last directory.

None of the companies provided details on how individual departments were affected by layoffs and buyouts, so it’s not possible to tell if there is a direct link to slimmed-down legal departments.

The Anheuser-Busch decrease follows the melding of the brewery’s 50-attorney legal department with InBev’s 200-lawyer department and the slashing of 1,400 salaried positions announced shortly after the $52 billion purchase. Seventy-five percent of the cuts were in St. Louis. About 10 attorneys had left Anheuser-Busch within a month of the acquisition, with a few exiting before the job cuts.

Monsanto, with 28 attorneys listed in the directory, down from 34 last year, this year announced 1,800 job cuts companywide, including 300 in St. Louis, as sales of the company’s flagship herbicide product Roundup slumped. The company had revenue of $11.7 billion in fiscal 2009, according to its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ameren, meanwhile, announced in November that about 300 positions would be cut by year’s end through a combination of layoffs and buyouts. The company has 16 attorneys listed in the directory, four fewer than last year.

Some of the lawyers in the legal department were among those offered buyouts, the company’s general counsel, Steven Sullivan, said at a September Missouri Bar event. A spokeswoman for Ameren said last week the company does not disclose how many people in individual departments accepted buyouts.

One company that kept a steady in-house roster anticipates having fewer lawyers on staff by the end of the fiscal year. Carthage-based furniture product manufacturer Leggett & Platt Inc., which reported 14 attorneys in-house, will be down two lawyers after one leaves for an in-house position in another state and General Counsel Ernest Jett Jr. retires, Jett said. Deputy General Counsel Scott Douglas will be Jett’s successor.

“It’s in part due to retrenchment due to lesser sales,” Jett said.

Leggett & Platt’s third-quarter sales were down $322 million to $810 million compared to the same period last year, according to a summary on the company’s Web site.

The shrinking of legal departments comes at the same time some companies plan to do more legal work in-house to save money. Nearly half  of  231 companies responding to a survey from consulting company Hildebrandt said they didn’t expect a change in legal staffing in 2009. Thirty percent expected an increase, reflecting a strategy of bringing more work inside to cut costs, according to an executive summary of the survey and a press release.

While the percentage of companies expecting to keep more work in-house is significant, such companies still are in the minority, said Jonathan Bellis, vice president and chairman of the law department consulting group at Hildebrandt.

“We’re in a tightening of belts,” Bellis said. “The last thing we would say is law departments are on a hiring surge.”

Leggett & Platt handles about 25 percent of its legal work in-house and has room to expand the amount, Jett said.

“It’s very difficult. In essence, our experience is we can save money by expanding,” Jett said. “On the other hand, headcount is a very sensitive item in corporations today.”