As we come to the end of 2019, I wanted to write about an issue I hear a lot about. In fact, in many of my conversations with in-house counsel, this is the number one topic, i.e., “how do I become a strategic in-house lawyer?” While sometimes this is a self-generated concern, it arises mostly because someone (the CEO, the General Counsel, or whomever) told the lawyer during an annual review or another setting that they need to be more “strategic” with their thinking. Sadly, that is typically about the extent of it, that is, “be more strategic. Now go forth and sin no more.” From personal experience, I can tell you that receiving such a command from your boss without more is about as useful as a mud fence in a rainstorm. But, as many in-house lawyers are learning, it is not enough to be an excellent lawyer with deep legal skills and institutional knowledge. That just gets you to the table. The business wants more out of its in-house legal department, especially from the general counsel and other senior members of the legal team. They want you to be “part of the business” and they want you to be “strategic.” Unfortunately, no one teaches you how to be strategic in law school – at least not when I was there. For most, you just sort of figure it out as you go along. That was my method. I cannot tell you that I figured out the magical incantation that makes you a strategic thinker, but I have learned many relevant lessons over the years. This edition of “Ten Things” shares my thoughts on how to become a strategic in-house lawyer:
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.
It’s hard to recall a more disconcerting feeling than getting a copy of a lawsuit filed against your company. If you have no experience with litigation, this can be a panic-inducing moment. And no matter how experienced you are handling litigation, your stomach will start to flutter as you read through the allegations.
I was a litigator in private practice and I definitely saw my share of litigation, big and small as in-house counsel. Over the course of that time, I developed a standard list of “things to do” when a lawsuit came across my desk. I did this because it’s easy to forget some basic things you need to do up-front to put yourself in the best position to defend the claim. Below are ten things to do when your company gets sued (I have added links to additional resources in key spots).
As we head into the holiday season, this is the perfect time to give your anti-bribery program a health check. For those in the U.S., we tend to focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when thinking about anti-bribery laws. However, if you work for a company that operates globally, you know that many countries have anti-bribery laws and you need to be aware of those requirements as well. Enforcement of the FCPA/anti-bribery laws is not going away. In fact, in my opinion, it will get even more intense over the next few years. Given the level of fines and the reputational risk at stake, it’s important to ensure you are taking the right steps to give your employees the tools they need to stay on the right side of the line. At my prior company, we typically used the advent of the holiday season as the time to take a number of steps relating to FCPA/anti-bribery compliance. Below are ten things you can do now to help ensure compliance with anti-bribery laws. In key spots, I have included links to articles or websites with additional information you might find helpful.
Whether you are new to the in-house department or a long-term veteran, the General Counsel or just a basic contract lawyer, there are a number of things that can help make you more successful in your career. I have distilled a lot of hard learned lessons into ten key tips. These are not exhaustive and there are always more, but these are the ten things I consistently taught to my teams over the years.