One of the most frequent questions I get from in-house lawyers is how to deal with difficult bosses. I have been very fortunate because – while practicing law for almost 30 years – I can count on a couple of fingers the times I was stuck with a boss who was a real asshole. After talking with a lot of other lawyers (at firms and in-house) I realize how lucky I have been in my career. While rare, I definitely remember how miserable I was the few times I did draw the short straw. Practicing law is tough enough without having to dread coming into the office because of a boss that just makes your life miserable. Still, I survived and got through it. But it wasn’t always easy and some days it really took a toll. I think my revenge was getting to the General Counsel chair a few times and swearing a blood oath to myself that I would never, ever be a jerk boss – something I remind myself of every day. Unfortunately, the problem of crummy bosses in legal departments will never go away. They are out there and they always will be. So, if you want to be a successful in-house lawyer you’re going to need to learn how to deal with them whether they are legal department lawyers or executives in the company (lawyers have no monopoly on being buttheads). This edition of “Ten Things” will set out some of my tips on how to deal with troublesome bosses:
A long time ago, most in-house legal departments were based in one location (or, at worst, one country). Over the past twenty years, this dynamic has dramatically changed for many companies. While a majority of smaller company legal departments still operate out of one location, not all do. Moreover, many medium and large companies have their in-house lawyers located in multiple offices, including both domestically and internationally. While definitely different than when I started in-house, I believe it is also better. Much better. Just like diversity in the workplace improves the company’s products and services, a legal department with members located in different places brings together multiple viewpoints, fresh legal analysis, different biases, and new work styles.
While this melting pot of differences makes things better over the long run, there are numerous challenges to managing such a group and bringing all of these differences together a way that functions smoothly. How do you lead across multiple countries and multiple time zones? How do you create unity in a team that rarely – if ever – sees each other in person? How do you ensure everyone feels engaged and that their contributions are valued when they sit several thousand miles away from the home office? All of these are tough things to work through, but all are solvable if you are willing to commit to doing the work necessary to bridge the gaps. In my current role, I have attorneys in four cities in the USA but we are adding attorneys in London and Tokyo this year. So, I will soon be faced dealing with the challenge of managing across countries. Fortunately, I have managed teams like this before. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I know it can be done. This edition of “Ten Things” discusses the things you need to do to manage a dispersed legal department: