Global guru

How to run a borderless legal department

Deborah Platt Majoras, chief legal officer and secretary of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G)

Against a backdrop of increasing regulation and higher expectations for compliance and corporate responsibility, global organizations face a myriad of complex challenges, not the least of which is running a so-called borderless legal department that operates on all cylinders 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Deborah Platt Majoras, who chaired the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from 2004 to 2008 under President George W. Bush, knows a thing or two about what it takes to deal with the legal intricacies facing global organizations. Currently the chief legal officer and secretary of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), Majoras has experience interfacing with a diverse workforce while juggling the needs of her different constituencies. In fact, she says, her experience as the head of the FTC helped prepare her for her current role in a number of ways.

“Both are large organizations that include not just lawyers but also many other professionals. On a broad level, it helped improve my skills in leading a talented team of diverse individuals—defining the mission and setting the goals; delegating and trusting while inspiring and driving excellence in execution; and finding ways for all to contribute while developing their talents,” Majoras explains. “More specifically, the FTC strengthened my ability in several ways that have proven to be highly useful in my current role: juggling the needs and asks of multiple constituencies while maintaining a principled and consistent approach; balancing set priorities with the emergent and often unexpected needs that inevitably pop up; and communicating effectively with all constituencies at the right time so that no one is needlessly surprised.”

Staying connected

In addition, Majoras’ government experience helps in her work with the company's Government Relations and Public Policy group, which also reports to her. With P&G's global presence—the company sells products in a number of markets to consumers in more than 180 countries around the world—its law department faces unique challenges from both a regulatory as well as a management perspective. Majoras oversees about 325 lawyers, nearly 200 of whom are located outside of the U.S.

“The greatest challenge for our global legal department is to keep our arms wrapped around both our varying businesses and the myriad laws and regulations that apply to each jurisdiction. We work hard to know and understand our businesses, goals and strategies, as well as all of the applicable laws so that we can operate in full compliance,” says Majoras. “Within our department, we also increasingly work to stay connected. Global does not mean that we just have lawyers around the world working individually, but rather, it means that we work across geographies and product lines to collectively develop effective strategies and to share expertise and learnings.”

Renewed focus

To better meet the company's increasingly complex legal needs, P&G's legal department has pioneered talent development and business process engineering projects aimed to allow for more holistic legal strategies.

“Over the past three years, P&G has been engaged in a strategic organization renewal process that the company refers to as ‘Legal Renewal’ in an effort to become more effective in meeting the company's complex, evolving needs against a backdrop of increasing regulation and higher expectations for compliance and corporate responsibility,” Majoras explains.

“Our newly redesigned organization includes many new facets. For example, we have integrated our patent, trademark and commercial capabilities so that our individual businesses receive robust and holistic legal strategies for product launches and initiatives, as opposed to piecemeal or siloed advice. We have established global collaboration models, in the form of practice groups and centers of excellence, which connect and develop our expertise on a global basis; examples include antitrust, new media and privacy and litigation. And, we have combined certain neighboring countries into clusters so that we can more effectively and efficiently work as teams to staff all legal needs.”

P&G has also renewed its focus on development of the company's people, she says, by focusing primarily on three areas: experience, coaching and formal training.

“We started with our legal professionals, i.e., paralegals and administrative employees, because we realized that we could do more to develop these important contributors to their full potential. Included in our new development program are enhanced training through ‘Legal Professionals College’ and a new career track that more explicitly lays out opportunities for growth and promotion,” says Majoras. “For our other employees—lawyers and government relations professionals—we have system through which we co-create individual career plans that naturally evolve over time, based on the company's needs, their skills and interests, and the areas in which they want to grow.”

This input is incorporated into the department's assignment planning, which Majoras hopes to use to expose her team to new areas of law and different parts of the business.

“The second area we concentrate on is coaching, and we encourage frequent and timely feedback and guidance, as well as rewards and recognition, both inside and outside of our yearly performance review system,” she says. “Finally, we have formal training, everything from formal global Legal Colleges to regional, country and practice area trainings to informal lunch-and-learns.”

Pioneering change

To keep P&G's lawyers outside the U.S. connected with the key issues in the U.S. and other jurisdictions, the company's legal department has a structure that is designed to leverage its experts in all different regions.

“We, first, have implemented a structure that is designed to maximize communication and use of expertise across geographic lines,” Majoras says.

Depending on the legal and compliance needs of the business, P&G's legal department has established either global practice groups or global “centers of excellence” that pool expertise and experience in a particular area of law, she explains.

“Our lawyers who are organized geographically as generalist experts in local law not only can call upon these practice groups and centers of excellence, but also might belong to one if they have relevant expertise. In addition, my leadership team, which comprises legal leaders from all parts of the world, meets a few times a year and speaks by phone once a week, always sharing the latest updates on individual matters, as well as on legal and compliance trends,” she says. “And they are generous to each other, often traveling to meet with one another's teams to share best practices and recent relevant experiences. Within practice groups and geographies, our lawyers and other legal and government relations professionals stay connected in a variety of ways, including monthly meetings or lunches to discuss hot issues and emerging trends.”

It's no surprise that Majoras, who will be honored at the Transformative Leadership Awards on Sept. 17 at the Women, Influence and Power in Law Conference in Washington, D.C., was named as the recipient of the Mary Ann Hynes Pioneer Award. The award is presented to a woman general counsel that has transformed being the “first” into being a catalyst for change. You can read more about Majoras’ accomplishments as well as those of the other TLA recipients on the following pages.

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Erin E. Harrison

Erin E. Harrison is the Editor in Chief of InsideCounsel magazine. Harrison’s professional background includes extensive expertise in both print and online media, highlighted by...

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