During The Lawyer’s recent conference, In-house Lawyer to Business Partner, RPC held a breakout session exploring how in-house lawyers can develop skills and strategies to add business value to the organization they support. This session was chaired by Julia Chain, a legal sector management consultant, and included short video clips from three General Counsels offering their views on a range of subjects for discussion in the panel afterwards. Our General Counsel and EVP, Robert Baugh, was one of these three featured GCs, and can be seen in the event summary video above (Robert’s segment begins at 00:55).
As I watched this summary video, I was struck by the repeated emphasis on communication and collaboration, which suggests to me that these skills are crucial for in-house lawyers. Here I’ve rounded up my take on the three main ideas on this topic discussed during the breakout session.
Effective collaboration is required both internally and externally
Collaboration for an in-house lawyer is almost always both internal and external. Internal collaboration involves working with your team and, as Robert stressed, the greater business. External collaboration will usually involve counterparties and external counsel. During Robert’s segment of the video, he discussed the importance of effective collaboration, as well as of having in-depth knowledge of the business you support, so that the legal function can have real impact on the business. I believe that that the main themes Robert highlights feed into each other. Getting in-depth knowledge of your business necessarily involves knowledge transfer and communication of ideas, in both directions.
To be an effective leader, you need to make your team’s voice heard
Michael Ellis of Abercrombie & Kent discussed tactics for becoming an effective leader within your organization, and also suggested that great communication is key. He believes that, for your team’s contribution to be understood and appreciated, you need to make the legal voice heard at a senior management and board-level. This involves making sure legal updates are regularly on the agenda, which may need skillful and persuasive communication skills when space on the agenda is at a premium. Julia polled the session audience and found that only about half of the audience had received formal communication skills training, and most of these had received this during time in private practice rather than in-house. Given the importance of communication skills, it seems there may be room for improvement on this score!
I couldn’t agree more with Michael. Here at LoopUp, Robert is on the Executive Team and is Company Secretary advising the board of directors. He certainly makes his voice heard in the business.
Get involved early when collaborating with other teams
Tom Brown, Director and Head of Legal, UK & Ireland at Paypal spoke about the need for great project management skills in becoming a trusted business adviser, and being involved in projects from an early stage. Tom places a legal project manager on each team – for example, product or marketing – so that they can collaborate with the teams in question, and have full insight into their pipeline. This dramatically decreases the need for legal advice, since questions and issues can be answered and dealt with earlier, instead of the legal team being brought in when a product is nearing completion. Collaborating in this way means that innovation can flourish, since legal will longer have to contribute at a late stage when release dates may be looming, so the likelihood of projects being blocked is greatly decreased; this also will have a positive impact on the relationship between legal and other departments. Indeed, at LoopUp we involve Legal very early in the product development lifecycle and the training that Legal provides to Engineering and Product helps those teams to steer development and flag legal issues themselves.
Collaboration and communication have always been key for lawyers. I hope that this summary of ideas discussed in RPC breakout session proves useful for thinking about areas to focus on or tactics to try. We would like to thank The Lawyer for organizing such an interesting and productive conference, RPC for hosting this breakout session and inviting Robert Baugh to speak, and Austin Faure Communications, who produced the video.
For more posts about lawyers, check out:
Life as a Tech Lawyer: Speaking at Bangor University School of Law
Screen Sharing for Lawyers: It’s Not Just a Sales Tool
Conference Calls and Online Meetings: 6 Essentials for Lawyers
Tech City Law: LoopUp Showcases Law Opportunities in London Tech Scene