Legal Solutions | USA
In Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series, Susan explored the individual professional development challenges lawyers face; in this installment, she discusses how the law departments can equip themselves for a major component of the new normal: globalization.
I live and work in the U.S. – but my practice and my clients are global. It's likely that if you're a law department executive, you can say the same thing about wherever you live and work (local), and the people your practice touches (global).
When I first started talking to general counsel who were responsible for and struggling with handling global legal matters, the problem most regularly cited was that the vast majority – if not all – of their lawyers were in their company's "home" jurisdiction – all housed locally at the company's HQ. Yet the company had work on the ground in far off places, each of which had its own jurisdictional quirks and requirements, many of which involved additional languages, and all of which sported different legal professional traditions. Nevermind having to retain law firms they'd never heard of.
Although that was more than 25 years ago, today's general counsel is still struggling with issues involving the globalization of the legal team, even though the issues and the composition of their departments and practices have changed substantially.
Most of their current issues fall into at least one of the following categories:
Whatever the kind of department, the "structural" issues that confront legal global department executives are universal and often include:
Of course there is no textbook or simple "best practice" for any of these issues, but here are a few of the tools that I've found effective in my own practice, and that have worked very well in departments looking to create a unified team and consensus strategic plan to direct their department's efforts across the globe: feel free to email in your ideas, too, and we'll report them in a future issue.
Survey your lawyers: If you don't know how to manage all these diverse people better, maybe you can start by asking them for their perspectives and ideas. Send your own team a simple online survey asking them to identify things they'd like to see improved, and how they'd prefer to be coordinated. You may find that people are very willing to move closer to a GC who is interested in their observations and includes their opinions and preferences, rather than dictating from afar.
Survey your internal clients: How do your business partners want their legal services provided? Are they happy with what they're getting? Do they perceive gaps? Are there opportunities for the department to seize? All of this provides the strongest justification for change when the GC announces strategic ideas to streamline or re-engineer the department's practices for greater global efficiency.
Examine benchmarks from other companies: While no other company has it down in every category, perhaps there are ideas or practices perfected in another company that you can learn from without having to re-invent the wheel: a sample slate of metrics, a cross-department communications strategy, a sample global firm retention policy. Shop for both ideas and practices that are tried and true, rather than assuming you have to invent them all yourself.
Allow your department's lawyers and staff to help make the decisions: Give them the opportunity to weigh in on how they can be better connected, coordinated, and collaborating. The GC should be the one to decide to drive such an effort, but it will never be effectively implemented or adopted unless it is "by the people and for the people." This will create active engagement and support. By empowering your staff you will also give them a chance to meet and connect with team members around the world and work with counterparts they'd otherwise never interact with. As each group of lawyers contributes to ideas with perspectives drawn from their own "local" experience, the power and potential of the global legal department and its many diverse members quickly overshadows any of the structural challenges that its executive leadership may face in uniting them.
Susan Hackett is the CEO of Legal Executive Leadership, LLC, a law practice management consulting firm she founded in 2011 after serving as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) for more than two decades. As an insider working with thousands of top corporate practice leaders, Susan has an amazing breadth of experience with the inner workings of in-house practice and the implementation of value-based legal models, as well as an international reputation for innovation, excellence and success. Comments welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.