The Inside Perspective

We live in a world of legal and business challenges that are significant and complex. A scandal or whistleblower can destroy, almost overnight, not only the long-held reputation of a company, but also the in-house counsel who work for it. Every day, we are inundated with more e-mail and information than our brains can possibly hold and yet, if we failed to focus on what in retrospect was truly important, we risk charges of negligence--or worse. As we continue to question whether the personal liability risk is worth it, it's important we don't lose sight of how privileged we are to be in a position to add strategic value to our companies, as well as our profession.

To be successful with our clients, we must differentiate ourselves through superior performance, which requires us to determine rules of success for our role and follow them with diligence and passion. We cannot be satisfied with putting out fires better than others or doing incredible work on contracts, litigation or acquisitions. We must do more. We need to teach employees how to be compliant and equip them with do's and don'ts so they don't run afoul of the law. We need to be our clients' eyes and ears regarding legal trends, risks and opportunities. We must proactively find appropriate ways for our clients to achieve their objectives. As in-house lawyers, we must ensure our work is top-quality and cost-efficient, which requires us to relentlessly oversee outside counsel and budgets. We must be visible role models for integrity and values.

How can we be viewed as trusted and effective counselors who go that extra mile?

First, we need to establish measurable goals annually. To be a truly strategic partner, our goals must further those of our employer by, for instance, providing relevant preventive law and compliance training, cutting costs and removing clutter, developing our staff, and enhancing our professional expertise and reputation. As we develop goals, it's important to obtain input from key stakeholders. We should benchmark with best practices in a continuous improvement approach to life. Once we establish our goals, we should track our performance quarterly, capturing a few bullet points on how we've measured up. We need to be candid with ourselves on where we're falling short and adjust accordingly.

Second, we must make ourselves indispensable. We achieve this when we are determined, reasonable and productive. By being proactive and focusing on what matters, we build trust and create opportunities for ourselves. In-house lawyers who get it done and honor commitments go far. We need to be passionate and have a sense of urgency about our desired outcomes while being calm and effective in handling the unexpected. We need to remember that we are always on stage, so having a positive attitude and communicating effectively are key. The good news is that if we become indispensable, we can bring about positive change.

We also add strategic value to our great profession when we increase access to justice and uphold the rule of law as the basis of a free society. By providing desperately needed pro bono legal services, we can help counter the denigration of our profession, and help prevent people from wondering where the lawyers were when another scandal hits the fan. To effect positive change, we always should seek to act nobly and speak out about challenges facing our profession, such as ensuring independent and trained judges, enabling law schools to best prepare future lawyers, ending discrimination, supporting civil justice reform protecting the attorney-client privilege, and helping remove unnecessary legal complexity.

Despite the challenges, if we focus on our rules of success and goals, we will provide great value to our companies and our profession--and receive as much, if not more, in return.

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Laura Stein is senior vice president?? 1/2 general counsel of The Clorox Co., a leading manufacturer and marketer of consumer products where she is responsible for the company's global legal, internal audit and corporate secretary matters. She previously was general counsel of H.J. Heinz Co., a premium brand and food company.

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