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:
More and more employers are affording their employees the ability to work from home or “remotely” as it is sometimes called. Studies show pretty convincingly that not only does the flexibility to work from home increase employee productivity and morale, it also heightens the company’s ability to attract and retain key talent. It can also save the company money in terms of reduced office space needs and other costs such as parking, utilities, etc. While working from home is growing, it is not growing as quickly at in-house legal departments. A lot of that has to do with one primary concern: “If I cannot see them, how do I know they are really working?” There are other issues, such as meetings, client interaction, department interaction, and so forth but the number one reason for not making work-from-home (“WFH”) an option for in-house lawyers boils down to trust.
As a former General Counsel I will be first to raise my hand and say that I was very reluctant when we first started allowing our in-house lawyers to work from home up to two days a week. It just felt “off” to me but I made a decision to put my reservations aside and focus on coming up with a plan that would either work out to the benefit of both the company and the employee, or would prove that WFH wasn’t really for us. I can report that it absolutely worked out fine for us both in terms of enhanced productivity and in terms of having a materially different “benefit” that made working in our legal department even more attractive, especially with respect to keeping existing talent and attracting new talent. That’s not to say that it was without bumps, we had them. And for some folks we needed to alter or revoke the privilege as it just didn’t work out in those cases. This edition of Ten Things tackles the question of whether work from home can work for your legal department and the things you need to do to ensure that any WFH policy works for everyone. While I am focusing on WFH, these same rules apply generally for managers and employees working a remote offices, i.e., offices away from headquarters.
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.
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.