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First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers (part 3)

Musings on the critical importance of building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and trust with the business side.

Why can’t we be friends?


Often, internal clients may from prior experiences and/or from general cultural reputation have an aversion to lawyers, rightly or wrongly. This is something many in-house counsel know all too well. Particularly for in-house lawyers who are not generally judged on their ability to bring in revenue and who must spend a significant amount of time in forging strong ties with in-house clients who are not attorneys, it is critical that an acceptable “professional personal” persona be established and effectively utilized.

This is an ice-breaking version of one’s personal self that is widely acceptable for professional relationship building. Time spent in cultivating this persona and using it to develop strong relationships with business side clients when things are calm will pay off big time when that trust and faith are put to the test in a crisis.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that finding ways to build strong relationships with internal clients is especially critical for female and diverse attorneys who, on the surface, may appear not to have much or anything in common with many of the white male business partners with whom they must effectively interact. Sometimes, true creativity and diligence is required to find some basis upon which to form and build upon a connection.

It’s important to remember that more unites us than separates us, male and female, white and black, lawyer and “normal person” alike! Spouses/significant others, children, pets, sports, popular culture, hobbies, etc., and amusing anecdotes regarding same, can facilitate ties and serve as the relationship-building materials necessary for connecting with and relating to business partners across a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Trust me: Putting in a little extra time in finding a basis for and engaging in water cooler talk, walking around and just shooting the breeze, occasionally going out for drinks or lunch (or bowling, a movie, a rodeo, karaoke – whatever works!) is time much better spent in the long run than perfecting a 20-page memo that no one is ever going to read--and that will make your internal clients want to “kill” you.

You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. Now it’s time to make people LIKE you.

Contributing Author

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Sonya Olds Som

Sonya Olds Som is a managing director in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago office and is primarily responsible for leading networking, business development and marketing...

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