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: