Legal is from Mars, security from Venus

Lawyers and security officers make for poor soul mates. The security staff gets frustrated by the perceived pettiness of solicitors, and everyday security activities make messes that lawyers have to clean up.

The nature of a security organisation is to protect the company and its constituents from malicious behaviour. The department rarely has the authority to unilaterally dictate policy, so a major part of the job is evangelical — sensitising lay executives to the evils of the dark side.

The legal department usually has two strategies: publishing exaggerated risk disclosures or collecting signed waivers from every entity that deals with the company. This includes strong-arming employment agreements, nondisclosure agreements and invention assignments from insiders, as well as neutralising customer complaints by papering caveats on every flat product surface. That’s why if you read the fine print, mobile phone services don’t commit to connectivity, antivirus checkers aren’t promising to find viruses and operating systems say that they may not operate. Legalese sanitises the company by discarding vulnerabilities.

The domestic squabbling continues even if the sky does fall. Security’s impulse is to call the cops because it wants to find out what happened in order to prevent a recurrence. Legal prefers a private investigation that emphasises identifying the culprits and the victims, so it can sue the former and get releases from the latter.

Lawyers look at the present but argue based on the past and precedent. Security officers argue for the future by looking at the present. They’re not even in the same mental time zone.

One of the chief strengths of lawyers is that they’re interpersonally simpatico with the MBA crowd. When they bring up a problem at a meeting, you can be sure they’ve “socialised” it first. Security officers can adapt this strategy for their own purposes by reviewing their proposed policies with a pseudo-legal eye, suggesting caveats as part of the package, and ideally, asking legal to help with the wording.

Like vinegar and oil, sharp security doesn’t mix well with contractual grease. The clashing between the two is not only distasteful but can ultimately neutralise the security guru because inevitably he will lose. The smart and sophisticated security officer, knowing this, will take the best of both and add a grain of salt.

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