I continue to be amazed by the ACC network and the willingness of members to share the insights gained through their experience. The recent annual CLO panel provides a good example. Panelists Jim Bramson (LivingSocial), Angela Ciccolo (Special Olympics), Karen Litsinger (Mirixa Corp.), Brian Miller (The AES Corporation) and moderator Rob Falk (Human Rights Campaign) had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on how to better serve your client. Some takeaways included:
Know the business. Whether you have a large or a small legal department, you must be able to see the big picture so the law department does not operate in a silo. To effectively handle a legal issue, you must know the business. The business objectives should provide the framework for the metrics you use to define success. As one panelist noted, legal issues must be placed in context because the organization seeks “resolution of the issue, not resolution of the legal issue.”
And if you want to achieve the success you’ve worked so hard to define, hiring the right people is essential. Luckily, the panelists noted what characteristics they look for in a potential employee, such as:
- listening skills;
- ability to manage stress;
- knowledge of how the company makes money;
- an understanding of how legal contributes to the bottom line;
- a personality that is “socially acceptable” and even “fun” (Although this generated laughter from the audience, this comment had a serious underpinning: If you fit in and are fun to be with, you will develop relationships within the organization that make it easier to connect with others and to do your job.);
- a desire to be part of the business; and
- an inquisitive nature that shows preparation and a true interest in the business (as opposed to just getting a job).
The panelists then offered some good advice for newly hired in-house counsel:
- Ask questions;
- Be candid and speak up if you need help;
- Learn the bottom line and how the law department contributes to the success of the organization;
- Develop and build relationships;
- Develop relationships outside of your office; and
- Educate yourself and learn to read and understand financial statements.
Speaking of good advice, the panelists developed a similar list for outside counsel looking to impress their in-house clients:
- Make a recommendation — do not just issue spot;
- Know our business and understand what we want to accomplish;
- Be willing to suggest the best person for the task — even if it is someone outside your law firm;
- Do not over-lawyer a transaction;
- Know what is “good enough”; and
- Be sensitive to cost and budget.
With the right staff in place, it’s time to demonstrate the value of your law department. The most humorous comment on this topic simply stated: “I am in trouble if I am asked to show the value of my department!” One panelist stated there are three times when the value of the law department becomes readily apparent:
- when submitting the budget;
- when something bad happens to the organization (generally not the preferred method); and
- when a competitor does something bad (definitely preferable to number two).
You can show the value of the law department by communicating how to reduce or manage risk (e.g., regulatory, litigation, contract, etc.) in language that the business understands.
Here are some final observations that could be used to help your career:
- Never bring a problem without a solution;
- Be candid about what you can and cannot do;
- Be civil — never burn any bridges;
- Be prepared;
- Bring others along;
- Stretch beyond your comfort zone; and
- Have fun.
While you may have heard much of this before, it is always helpful to review and apply to how we do business today.