Why we hate lawyers in IT: Reason No. 1,997

Q: I have been in the IT field for over 20 years, in several different companies. Why does it seem like in the past year I spend more time meeting with lawyers than the business people? I understand Sarbanes-Oxley issues, but my current company has been public for seven years, and we have always had "compliance" reviews, but I have been in six meetings in the past eight months with our chief counsel and other lawyers in attendance. Is this happening everywhere, or should I be concerned that something is up?

-- Paranoid In The Data Center

A: It's not just you; we've gone crazy. As if IT weren't hard enough, now you can't boot your laptop without a lawyer getting in the middle.

Why? There have been astounding levels of legislation passed or pending in the past few years directly relevant to the use, misuse and downright abuse of data. Privacy issues alone are going to keep annoying lawyers employed for many years. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, while not new, is being so violently contested that your company will be spending a fortune on legal fees whether you comply or not. Either way, the lawyers win.

No one likes lawyers. It's not even one of those "you hate them until you need them" things; I hate them even though I need them. It's not lawyers personally, mind you. I like most of the lawyers I am forced to use. It's the fact that I'm forced to have them (if ever there were a better self-propagating group of folks than lawyers, I can't figure out who it would be). They write the laws, then sit on both sides of those laws. They have guaranteed employment. Even the crappy ones do OK because there are always dumber, crappier people somewhere down the legal food chain who can't navigate the system because the system was designed by lawyers, for lawyers. It's even enforced by lawyers turned judges and ensured sustenance by lawyers turned politicians. It's brilliant if you think about it.

Auditors once held the title of "best business idea ever," since they forced lawyers to write laws stating that companies had to have independent audits. Then the auditor finds things wrong and very conveniently provides consulting services to fix them so you can have a report telling the lawyers that you adhered to the law they enacted, which the auditors wrote. Genius.