Managing a global legal department: Collaborating within a global legal department

How to blend different perspectives without falling into the trap of localization

This is the second in a four-part series in which Oracle Associate General Counsel Suchitra Narayen, QuisLex CEO Ram Vasudevan and consultant Rees Morrison will discuss the opportunities and challenges facing a global legal department. Read part one here.

If you are lucky enough to work in a global legal department, you will have the opportunity to work with people from other countries and tackle complex and novel issues from many parts of the world. However, for the global legal department to be successful, it will be as important to focus on how you work as it is to define what you do.

Organize legal teams across rather than within geographical regions: While there is an instinctive preference to co-locate legal teams in physical proximity to each other, organizing functional legal teams across geographical regions increases knowledge sharing, and leverages local legal expertise efficiently. Organizing legal teams across regions also facilitates implementation of a “follow the sun” model, to optimize legal support for the company.

Invest in building relationships and trust within the department: Lawyers, like everyone else, have their own comfort zones and trusted relationships based on physical proximity and a sense of similarity or familiarity. To be successful, a global legal department must foster the same sense of camaraderie and trust across a distributed and diverse organization. Periodic in-person meetings can help build and strengthen internal cohesion and collaboration. However, regional or international legal meetings are expensive and infrequent. Between these in-person meetings, video conferencing, which is readily available at relatively modest prices, can go a long way to personalize and build rapport between legal colleagues. If video conferencing is not readily available, periodic phone calls are preferable to communicating only via email.

Balance centralized consistency and localization: A point of tension may arise between centralized headquarters-based legal groups who wish to deploy a single consistent global template, program or process, and attorneys elsewhere who press to localize everything to their country-specific requirements, on the basis that their particular country or region is “different” and therefore needs special accommodation. The right answer of course, lies somewhere in between. It may be critical to meet local product compliance requirements. It may be less important to localize and translate a contract for a 1-2 week equipment loan a few times each year. However, compromise may be difficult to achieve without a pre-existing relationship and trust that allows the attorneys to discuss issues frankly and agree on what is critical and what is a personal preference or “nice to have.”

Deploy common technology platforms and provide equal access to data: Unless checked, a global legal department can quickly degenerate to isolated local pockets with inconsistent policies, practices and tools. Common policies, technology platforms and access to centralized data not only improve efficiency but also enhance alignment and collaboration across a global legal department.

Be open to new perspectives and approaches: Many lawyers have practiced only in one country. In some cases, due to licensing restrictions, lawyers have spent their entire careers in a single state in a single country—perhaps practicing in a single area of the law. Rather than assume that your way is the only correct way, accept that wherever you are, and however long you have practiced, there are several hundred jurisdictions where the laws and legal approaches may differ. Indulge your curiosity and take advantage of these opportunities to learn and leverage new approaches, without falling into the quagmire of endless localization.

Working within a global legal department can be an enriching and rewarding experience, provided that the department invests consciously in the relationships, tools and perspectives that foster effective collaboration across a distributed and diverse legal organization.

 

Questions about this article may be addressed to Mr. Vasudevan at ram@quislex.com

Contributing Author

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Suchitra Narayen

Suchitra Narayen is an associate general counsel with Oracle, supporting hardware engineering, the hardware supply chain and service delivery logistics. Suchitra is a Certified Sigma...

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Contributing Author

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Ram Vasudevan

Ram Vasudevan is CEO of QuisLex and his career includes more than 16 years of providing high-quality services to clients in a variety of settings....

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Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC. Based in Princeton, NJ, Rees has for the past 25 years consulted solely to...

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