Inside Experts: Synergies tie in-house counsel, skiers

Like skiers, in-house lawyers understand the challenges they face in their jobs and can formulate strategies and identify tools needed to succeed.

Being an in-house counsel is a great career and a great life, but not a perfect one.

If you are a GC or deputy GC at a large corporation, or GC at a smaller company, or your legal department is understaffed, you are going to need to stretch yourself across multiple practice areas. And you are going to need to be someone who can make decisions, when necessary, under pressure and based on incomplete information. You will need to become something of a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, and someone who can both look and leap at the same time.

When faced with litigation, think like a downhill skier. In downhill, finishing the race, let alone winning, is impossible without careful preparation. The rules of downhill allow skiers several days to inspect a course and to take practice runs. The skiers who push themselves in the practice runs often win. Parties to a court case prepare for trial much the same way. Preparation isn’t all of it, though. To win, downhillers must put themselves at great risk. World-class downhillers also must possess the super-human capability to recover from surprises—ice patches, ruts, shadows—at 75 miles per hour plus, and not let the experience slow them down for even a fraction of a second. Great downhillers like Bode Miller of New Hampshire are physically stronger than their competition, allowing them to fight the G-forces in turns, absorb the incredible vibration or “chatter” in their skis and maintain momentum on a course stretching several miles like Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland. Preparation, risk taking and stamina are all essential attributes for litigation.

Slalom courses are the opposite of downhill: short races with gates placed a few meters from each other, and an opportunity to inspect the course only on race day and from a distance. Corporate compliance is much like skiing slalom. Like slalom gates, laws and regulations stand in our way of doing business, and we don’t have much choice but to interpret them as accurately as we can and navigate them as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Violating laws and regulations can be disastrous for a company, just like hooking a slalom gate will most certainly end in disqualification. Austrian skiers like Marlies Schild and Elizabeth Gorgl, and Frenchman Jean Baptiste Grange, are great slalom racers because they have superior technique. Their skis never leave the ground; their upper bodies remain still. In the same way, technical competency, efficiency and poise are also keys to good corporate compliance.

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Eric Esperne

Eric Esperne is counsel for Dell Services and is located in Canton, Mass. He has more than 15 years experience as in-house counsel for government,...

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