Learning what makes the business tick
For in-house legal teams, getting under the skin of a business makes you a better lawyer, writes Jemima Harris.
One of the unique and highly rewarding aspects of being an in-house lawyer is the opportunity to contribute to the long-term success of an organisation. In-house counsel can grow and prosper with an organisation, not to mention that contributing meaningfully to daily operations and overarching business objectives helps to cement you as an essential and indispensable employee.
At a time when legal teams are under pressure to do more for less, proving your worth and contributing to your organisation’s bottom line will increase your standing in the business and help to ensure longevity in your role.
Here are four ways in-house counsel can make their job easier while at the same time adding value to their client organisation.
Be helpful, not a naysayer
While it’s important to consider all the legal implications of a transaction, when delivering advice to an internal client, don’t simply highlight problems. Explain what needs to be done (or not) in simple practical terms in order to achieve the business outcome sought. Try to answer questions from the perspective, ‘Yes, if….’, rather than, ‘No, because…’. Some in-house lawyers have a reputation for approaching issues negatively or poking holes in work, and while we do often have to deliver news people don’t want to hear, framing advice in a positive and solution-focused way will ensure you’re viewed as an enabler of business by internal clients, rather than an obstacle to it.
Look beyond the legal team
Take every opportunity available to immerse yourself in the business to see and understand firsthand how it operates. If the organisation you work for operates a distribution business, tag along with a driver for a morning. Read trade press to gain broader knowledge of the industry and to understand the commercial drivers of the business. Advice given in this context will be more commercial and more highly valued.
Don’t take a backseat
When attending meetings, don’t be a passenger. If you have something to contribute to the discussion, even if it’s not related to legal, speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask (well timed) questions. The more you know about the business and the issues facing it, the more relevant your advice will be. Generally, clients will assume the legal advice you give is technically correct and this is obviously important. However, being a trusted adviser to the business is more than just understanding the legal framework in which it operates. If you can demonstrate understanding of the commercial drivers of the business, your advice will be more readily sought.
Think strategically and be proactive
Take the time to understand the company’s strategy and vision to ensure alignment between how legal services are delivered to the organisation. Look for ways to make it simpler for the business to engage with legal. Something as simple as keeping an internal client updated on the status of a matter so that they don’t have to ask will be greatly appreciated. Ask internal clients what they like about their interactions with the legal team, what frustrates them, and what they would like to see done differently. Consider whether self-help options are appropriate for low-value/low-risk work. Simple tools like standard instruction sheets for common transactions will not only make your job easier, but will also reduce turnaround times by ensuring that relevant and complete instructions are received without legal having to follow up. Even if you have sophisticated processes and systems in place, there is always room for improvement, so take the time to review them every now and then.
Jemima Harris is a managing counsel at lexvoco.