How to be influential within your organisation

The Centre for Legal Leadership’s first webinar of 2022, hosted in conjunction with Thomson Reuters, considered how in-house lawyers can be influential within their organisations, why this is so important and why it is sometimes difficult to achieve.

Understand the business and your role in it

Understanding the context in which you deliver your advice is crucial. Understand your role within your organisation, its business strategy, its purpose and culture, and how the legal team’s work contributes to its success.

Use insights from key business meetings (one panellist highlighted a quarterly update from the CEO and CFO) to get to grips with the business’s priorities and where you need to target your team’s efforts. Remember that the legal department is typically viewed as a cost centre, so focus on where you and your team can add the most value.

A large legal department is likely to include subject matter experts. Your role is to understand what they are doing, how they are doing it and to ensure that it coincides with the business’s strategic priorities. The legal department needs to a strike a balance between getting things right legally while at the same time helping the business achieve its objectives.

Build your personal brand

Enjoying what you do will mean that you perform well, which in turn will put you in a better position to influence others within your organisation. Most importantly, you must be good at your job and be seen by others within your organisation as being good at it too. You’ll need to retain your independence, be prepared to have difficult conversations and sometimes highlight wrongdoing where you find it. This may make you unpopular and can lead to the role of the in-house lawyer being a somewhat tough and lonely position.

Prioritise developing relationships within your organisation

One way to avoid a sense of isolation is by getting to know people across your organisation. Informal conversations are crucial in helping to build relationships with colleagues. Show a genuine interest in understanding what they are working on and what they are trying to achieve. Don’t just keep you head down and keep working. It’s never too early to think about your network. Be proactive and really think about the relationships that you are trying to build.

Get involved at the start of things

When you have strong connections across the business, you are more likely to be invited to get involved at the start of a project, rather than at the end. This will enable you to identify early on where the red lines are, and where the grey lines are too. Be prepared to contribute during discussions on areas that are outside your legal skillset and get used to making judgment calls at short notice.

Make the most of meetings

Manage your diary effectively and take the time to prepare before your meetings. Consider what outcome you are trying to achieve and the key messages that you want to convey. Plan for your conversations by thinking about your audience. Where necessary, you may need to adjust your style and tailor your messages for different stakeholders. For example, some people do not like to be challenged in a public forum, while others relish it. Be genuine in your contributions and learn the right time to say something and when not to intervene.

Expand and adapt your skillset

Never stop learning. Try to broaden your perspective and avoid simply focusing on the law; lawyers are sometimes guilty of focusing too much on the detail to the detriment of the bigger picture. Look to develop both your legal skills and your soft skills (such as project management, stakeholder management or emotional intelligence).

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and, occasionally, give yourself permission to fail. One panellist gave the example of public speaking. They were not particularly good at it when they started but, having taken the time and effort to observe others who were, they have developed their skills over time.

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