The Centre for Legal Leadership’s final webinar of 2021, hosted in conjunction with Thomson Reuters, considered working effectively across the organisation. This post highlights the themes raised by the panellists and via questions from the audience.
Understand the business
Get out into the business so that you can really understand it. Your aim as an in-house lawyer is to become a trusted adviser who can be relied on to provide a confidential ear in challenging times. Get to know your clients and key stakeholders, and learn about their goals and motivations.
The power of networking
Be known and be seen. Understand the seats of power and influence within your organisation, both formal and informal, and get to know the politics. Tap into your existing network to learn about new colleagues by asking “what should I know about them?” It can be useful to be forewarned about a potentially challenging client.
Break free from the stereotype
People can still find lawyers intimidating, so avoid sitting in your ivory tower and instead sit with the business. First impressions really matter too. Don’t just send an email, be proactive and call someone or meet them in person. Be human and remember that a sense of humour helps.
Speak in the language that the business uses and give advice that is short and sweet, avoids legalese and highlights the key points for the business. They are not interested in the regulations or case law that have led you to your decision, they just want to understand how it will impact the business.
Set clear boundaries
Although it’s great that colleagues want to engage with Legal, it’s important that you are clear about what the team will and will not do. Remember to say “no” politely, with a smile, and be prepared to signpost requests to other parts of the business.
Help the business to help itself
Avoid a culture of dependence and fill the skills gap by training colleagues to do things themselves. Provide them with tools (for example, checklists or contract champions) and training (for example, on compliance, contracts or competition) that is tailored to their needs. For example, board members will require a different type of training to the sales team.
Manage your external lawyers carefully
In-house lawyers need to get to grips with a wide range of law and it’s therefore important to get the most from your external law firms. The business will regard them as an extension of your legal team, so make sure you manage those relationships carefully as your reputation is on the line.
Cultivate outside interests
Try and secure an extra-curricular role. For example, by becoming a non-executive director or the trustee of a not-for-profit organisation. These outside interests will give you a wider understanding of the business world and make you a much more effective lawyer. In a similar vein, shadowing other senior executives within your own organisation can also help broaden your horizons.
Trust and empower your team
Teamwork is key. When you are hiring, look to recruit lawyers who work well as part of a team and get on with clients. During the induction process, provide “buddies” for new lawyers who are on a similar level to them. This will help them settle in as they are more likely to ask questions of a peer, rather than their manager.
For further information, see Blog post, Leading and managing in-house legal teams.
Use your reach within the business
In-house lawyers are in a great position to reach out to all parts of the business, be it the sales, commercial, disputes or operations teams. Lawyers bring something different to an organisation, so think where you can add the most value and demonstrate why you are there. Focus on the big-ticket stuff and avoid getting drowned in too many low-level requests from the business. Work smarter; not harder.
Dealing with imposter syndrome
When you start a new role, you may feel somewhat of an imposter but let that initial feeling of fear just wash over you. Somebody believes in you as they have given you that job, so trust in your own ability and remember that nobody knows everything. Being uncertain about what may come up each day is part of the challenge of an in-house role.