Whether you run a small team of seven or you are in charge of a sprawling international-based 200+ legal department, you will need to have regular staff meetings. Unfortunately, staff meetings have an inherent tension. On one hand, people in the legal department want to know what’s going on in the department, the company and the industry you operate in. On the other hand, people want another meeting about as much as they want a root canal. The tricky part is balancing these opposing views and running a staff meeting that is both informative and interesting (i.e., one that people actually look forward to attending).
Continuing with the theme of goal setting for the in-house legal department and my sample goals (see January 8 post), this week I will focus on this goal: “Meet Budget Target for 2015.” No in-house department is immune to cost pressure. After taking care of your team, nothing is more important than being able to successfully manage your outside counsel spend. As I have said before, the legal department is a cost center and the business is always looking to cut costs. That’s why it is important for you to be on top of what you spend with outside counsel (or vendors). Being able to demonstrate that you are paying close attention to costs and that you are thoughtful in what you are spending and why, will make conversations with Finance (and the CEO) go much easier. In-house lawyers who run their matters, teams, or department like a business have more credibility at budget time –- and during those really tough times when the business is looking for more difficult cost cutting measures.
As I mentioned in my last post (January 8), over the next few weeks I will dive deeper into some of the sample department “goals” I set out in that article. Today I will focus on this goal: “Build and retain extraordinary team with exceptional people.” I always put my “people goal” first because I truly believe that nothing gets done in legal unless you have top talent that is motivated and happy in their jobs. How do you keep and reward people so they stick around? The obvious answer is pay them well, have a good performance bonus program in place, and let them share in equity plans. The problem is, for many reasons, it usually is not fully in your control to make any of these three things happen. For purposes of this article, I am going to assume that you are doing what you can for your team around salary, bonuses and equity and, instead, focus on some low cost ways you can reward/recognize employees.
The beginning of any calendar year is always busy with key administrative tasks for an in-house legal department. My next several posts will deal with such items. One of the more daunting tasks (whether you are general counsel or not) is setting useful goals for the upcoming year. Legal departments do not always lend themselves to neatly setting goals like the business units, i.e., it can be difficult to measure “success” in legal vs. measuring profits and sales or setting key performance indicators (“KPI’s”). That said, setting goals for the department or yourself is important and a fresh opportunity to take stock of many things. I always approached yearly goal setting as, among other things, an opportunity to market the department (i.e., all the great stuff we were doing), get a deeper understanding of what was important to the business, and gather feedback on how the department could improve in the upcoming year. Meaning, don’t shirk the opportunity and think of goal setting as some type of pain-in-the-neck HR exercise you have to muddle through. Embrace the process as the more thought and effort you put into goal setting, the bigger the payoff. And, there will be a payoff for you and your team if done properly and with some enthusiasm.