REUTERS | Christian Charisius

GC leadership: the non-legal and leadership skills required for success

Recently, I participated in Practical Law’s breakfast workshop, The non-legal and leadership skills needed to progress internally. This workshop is part of the GC Leadership series and was led by Marsha Aldridge (Head of Legal at FitFlop), Keith Krasny (Director of Mindflint Ltd) and Erik D. Lazar (Director and founder of Transatlantic Law International).

While Chatham House rules do not permit me to reveal all that was said, what I can tell you is how thought provoking and enjoyable I found the workshop.

What is your claim to fame?

Marsha Aldridge opened by saying that her claim to fame is that no one from the legal team have left the business on her watch. This is certainly a claim that she should be very proud of. In-house lawyer-managers dealing with ever increasing demands to do more with less can really do without the additional costs and time investment invariably required to hire and train new staff repeatedly. Instead, if you are able to recruit and retain a high-performing and motivated team, you can be assured of getting increased productivity and the kudos of having a team who are excellent brand ambassadors for the legal department.

So what does a happy team look like? It looks like a bunch of happy individuals working together to achieve common objectives. Individuals who have had personal attention from their employer through being:

  • Paid appropriately.
  • Recognised for their efforts, contributions and successes.
  • Supported in their personal growth.
  • Given the opportunity to create the important relationships that sustain and enrich their work lives.

How do you create a happiness bubble around your team?

Is it possible to create a bubble of happiness for your team with a few well- chosen and executed (preferably also low cost) strategies? The workshop attendees believe so.

Everyone agreed that to be an effective manager, you need to invest time in people through regular one-to-one meetings. One-to-one meetings provide both parties with the opportunity to develop and deepen relationships, share information (even appropriate confidential information) and provide mutual feedback. For the manager, taking time out from the business to reconnect as a human with a member of his or her team can operate as a safety valve from the pressures of the day and allow a sometimes needed change of pace in a typical working day. It can also become a regular forum for the manager to mentor and coach a team member through any difficulties and may provide an opportunity to avert a crisis before it occurs.

Equally important for retaining a high performing team are regular team meetings. These provide opportunities to inform the whole team about company objectives and news, ensuring that everyone is equipped with the same information and working toward the same goals. Team meetings can make team members feel more engaged and part of the bigger picture. Some ideas shared during the workshop for running effective team meetings that really resonated with me included:

  • Bringing in a guest speaker. Leverage your network to introduce your team to people who may be inspirational to them or have interesting information impart to them.
  • Bringing in participants from other parts of the business.Create a forum where your team is able to benefit from information from other parts of the business, and other business units can understand the work your team does and feed that back to the rest of the business.
  • Allowing team members to run the meeting. Have someone else from your team set the agenda, chair the meeting and take the minutes. This will encourage engagement (and attendance).

The principles behind building successful teams remain the same for managing remote teams. However, with remote teams, it can be difficult to arrange a one-to-one meeting or a team meeting, especially where different time zones are involved. Yet, in this era of constant cost cutting, it is hard to find the budget to bring remote teams together. Even with the aid of technology, in particular teleconferencing facilities, the general consensus appears to be that there is simply no substitute for physically bringing teams together.

Creative ideas provided by the group to find the money to make these meetings happen included making deals with the CFO by offering to shave off some costs in other areas in exchange for more meeting budget and involving HR to see if you can make use of their training budgets or budgets for company-wide initiatives.

How do you build your personal brand and influence?

Keith Krasny suggested that a good first step towards building your personal brand is to take note of your behaviour in situations where you have been effective and, equally importantly, in situations when you have been less effective. GCs should move from relying on their innate skills to actively developing their leadership and management tools, which can mean moving out of their comfort zone. Knowing the right time to speak up is a very useful skill to develop. Being right isn’t always enough – timing is essential.

How do you increase your potential internally and maximise use of external resources ?.

Erik Lazar, summed up a successful GC as someone who understands within the company the mission of the business and is able to help execute it ethically, with time management, with the ability to look ahead of the curve, and with success.

There are other factors in being successful include budget, staff and quality of staff,  and overall resources, but, Mr. Lazar suggests, success is only possible if one knows the company mission and is also a master of key business relationships. If you do not have a good relationship with the CEO or other key leaders of the business, do you have other sponsors in the business who are able to help you spread your influence? Are you and your team aligned with the mission of the business?

To do this and be successful with the board and your team you have to manage both up and down and align the interests of the team dynamically with the company’s mission and its leaders not just in terms of results but in terms of growing strong relationships.

This also carries over to managing outside counsel. Mr. Lazar remarked that there are a large variety of choices in-house counsel now have include traditional firms, outsourcing ‘placement’ firms for special projects, national virtual firms, secondees and the global alternative firm which can reach many more countries through different service structures.

Choosing the right firm for the right task is key and aligning delivery of those services with the company’s objectives at the right cost remains important as companies increasingly look for new ways to reduce costs and extract high quality lower cost services from the market. Beyond choosing outside options correctly, it is becoming increasingly important to partner with outside resources and work with them closely to achieve best results and understand your business needs better, a lesson sometimes lost in a buyer’s market where cost may not be everything and dedication and teamwork can yield much better results as well as a better longer term service impact.

Giving yourself permission to stop being a transaction junkie, master the dark arts of triage and allow yourself time to focus on the people that matter, be they your team or your boss, appears to be the group mantra for this workshop and beyond.

These workshops are a fantastic opportunity to receive practical guidance and work through the challenges and issues that everyone faces, and to meet and network with industry professionals. They are provided by Practical Law’s online learning solution at

Thomson Reuters Legal UK & I Karen Ngo

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