Legal departments benefit when in-house counsel deviate from the norm

Why you shouldn't be afraid to break the mold

It’s human nature to develop a routine. Lawyers, particularly in-house attorneys who are more office-bound, are especially prone to following a pattern of behavior. We are creatures of habit, which may not always be beneficial. 

So, it is important to “mix things up”—not just in your own practice but in your department or practice area. While there may be some initial resistance, each of us should be a catalyst for change that enhances our own legal skills and those of our attorneys and paralegals. This will challenge everyone to grow both professionally and personally. Some ideas:

Take the attorneys out of their respective “comfort zones.” Your attorneys have developed certain areas of expertise over time. Move them around so that their experience, expertise and exposure broadens. This will keep attorneys fresh. In addition, this will develop some cross-training among the legal staff, as the attorneys seek guidance from those who handled the areas of law or client base in the past. This needs to be handled realistically, of course. Some attorneys may simply not have the appropriate background or demeanor to move in and out of particular areas. However, a good inhouse counsel should be able to adjust to any area of law within the company’s scope of business.

Invite representatives from various business units to address your legal team about their initiatives and business plans. The attorneys will become more connected to the business clients they represent, and understand the pressures and the constraints within which the business partners must operate. Open up a dialogue between the business partner and the legal team, and focus on breaking down some of the traditional walls that exist between them. A typical agenda for such meetings should include the business team member’s view of the state of the business, her unit’s shortterm and long-range objectives and ways to improve the manner in which the legal team works with the business unit. The meetings should not be gripe sessions but should be constructive.

Incorporate in-house training conducted by members of your legal team. Such in-house training will enable attorneys to develop their presentation skills. In addition, the training will expose other attorneys in the department to subject matters with which they may have limited or no knowledge.

Encourage your team to become involved in professional opportunities outside the department. These activities may include pro bono work, speaking at local continuing legal education sessions, participating in professional committees or teaching at a local law school. All of these activities enhance the individual’s growth in the legal profession and positively reflect on the entire legal department. Such activities may be made part of the attorneys’ bonus objectives.

Engage your team in off-site, community service-related activities. This can be an adjunct to your company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. If your company is not already engaged in community service through a formalized CSR program, the legal team should become a role model for the business team. Depending on the nature of the community service, the attorneys will develop a much better sense of how a successful team can achieve results when everyone works together on a common project that is not related to legal issues.

Many of these ideas can be scaled up or down depending on the size of the in-house legal department or practice groups. Most also can be applied to the paralegals in your department or practice area. The guiding principle should always be that the legal department comprises individuals with multiple skills, and remains dynamic and responsive to the needs of the company.

Thomas Lalla is SVP and GC of Pernod Ricard USA.

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.