I remember my first legal presentation to the full senior executive team very well. I had just started in and was using my hands to gesture on some point when I caught the coffee cup of the chief operating officer with my right hand and blew a geyser of coffee across her papers and across much of the table. Oh, God! I sat there paralyzed and wondered if I had a box handy to gather my personal effects for the walk to the parking garage that was certainly in store for me. The CEO looked at me, and then at the COO, and just started laughing. Then he said that it was “probably the best debut before the executive team” that he had ever seen. We got the table cleaned up and I somehow managed to get back on track and give my presentation, but I realized (and the General Counsel reinforced) that I was pretty lucky to have a forgiving CEO with a sense of humor. Not everyone is so lucky.
One of the most difficult things for in-house lawyers to do is present legal issues to senior management. The first problem is usually the lack of experience in presenting to the C-Suite or the Board of Directors. These opportunities are often rare. Second, flying coffee aside, it can be very intimidating. Executives have little time to spare and legal issues are generally not high on their list of favorite topics. You can feel their impatience. Third, it can be challenging to simplify complex legal issues or the decisions that need to be made. While it isn’t easy, every in-house lawyer needs to know how to effectively present before the senior executives of the company (including the Board of Directors). This edition of “Ten Things” sets out the lessons I have learned over a couple of decades of presenting legal issues to the C-Suite: