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Managing a global legal department: Collaborating across the organization

Managing a global legal department: Collaborating across the organization

How to communicate with other departments and organizations within your company

This is the third 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 parts one and two.

The theoretical target for any legal organization is compliance with 100 percent of all applicable laws, regulations and company policies in 100 percent of all applicable jurisdictions with 100 percent of its employees.

As we discussed in part one of this series, as companies grow and expand globally, each of these variables increases in size and complexity while the legal department typically remains a small organization relative to the overall business. In addition, legal, sales, engineering, finance and other organizations have different perspectives, use different “languages” and possibly inhabit different planets altogether. Add a layer of regional and cultural variation and geographic distance to the mix and the complexity grows exponentially. To be effective, a global legal department must necessarily collaborate with other organizations to facilitate compliance with legal requirements and company policies.

Identify and leverage key business processes and systems: Although some lawyers perceive processes as starting when someone first contacts the legal department, in reality, any business process, whether related to development, sales or other business activities, starts long before the initial contact with the legal department (e.g., with a sales person pitching a prospective client about new products or services) and ends long afterwards (e.g., with the actual order for products or services under the contract finalized with the assistance of the legal department). Inserting the legal requirements into the existing business process or system allows the legal department to more readily intersect with its internal clients and leverage what it is already doing anyway. However, the larger the company, the greater the risk that there are multiple processes and systems, so identifying and integrating legal requirements and processes into each relevant process or system can be a challenge.

Communicate in a “non-lawyerly” way that balances simplicity and clarity: Even when lawyers think they are writing simple, short, clear instructions, they are faced with the complaint that there are “too many words” for the typical engineer or sales rep. Consider using charts, diagrams and other language- neutral communication tools that internal clients use for their regular business communications. The challenge, of course, is that a chart may result in too simplistic a message that is misunderstood or misapplied by the business organizations, but adding explanations or qualifiers to ensure sufficient clarity will get us back to the “too many words” problem.

Tailor timing, tone and nature of engagement to be most effective: Recognize that “ASAP” or “urgent” may have a different meaning based upon local culture and priorities and that the strength and directness of a message may have to be tailored so that it is actually heard and accepted by the local audience. For example, a strong anticorruption message may be expected or even required in countries that rank high on the corruption index but it will be important to avoid being perceived as passing moral judgment on either the local customs or local employees, which could, in many cases, be counter-productive.

Invest in learning something about the other organization/region/country: An attorney from one region reported that even colleagues in his own legal department did not know in which continent his home country was located. Today, with access to copious amounts of information available on internal and public websites, there is no excuse for not taking the time to learn something about the local organization with which you seek to collaborate. It may help you avoid pitfalls and if nothing else, you will be appreciated for making the effort to learn something about the organization.

Deliver value to and seek sponsorship from other organizations: Don’t assume that a contract or compliance with a legal requirement is the end goal. Delivering business value in addition to legal value can facilitate cooperation from other organizations and sponsorship from key business executives. For example, if legal can provide a periodic update about contracts completed to someone tracking win rates or persuade key business executives that it is more profitable and efficient to do things in a legally compliant way by correlating specific investigation costs or claims to adverse margin/profitability/schedule impact, it will be much easier to gain support.

While working within the legal department of a global company, it is easy to feel like a small “David” facing a large “Goliath,” so consciously leveraging Goliath’s resources and weight will be critical to the legal department’s effectiveness.

 

The authors would like to thank Lucio Maria Fabani Larranaga, Legal Director, Oracle LAD Legal for his help and input with this installment of the series.

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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