As I’ve written before, I am often asked: “What qualities describe a good modern in-house lawyer?” If I were to answer honestly, the answer would be: “Well, it depends.” Increasingly, an effective modern in-house counsel should demonstrate a variety of qualities, which vary across industries, seniority, and geography.
I recently discussed how to show up as your authentic self, and how doing so can help you leverage technology to increase impact and find a seat at the table, all while building modern legal departments.
But showing up as your authentic self is not, on its own, enough to be an effective in-house counsel in the 21st century. Here are a few more qualities that, in my experience, are increasingly demanded for the modern in-house counsel and leaders.
Let’s say you are an in-house counsel who excels in her job. You provide amazing legal advice that increases the value and diminishes risks for your business. Internal clients love you. Your colleagues respect you. Your managers reward you with regular promotions and pay increases.
Now here comes an important question: How do you scale a great lawyer? How do you empower your clients to make impactful decisions every day even when you are not there? How do you ensure that they make prudent decisions as a matter of course?
How do you create habits and instill processes in your workplace so that your impact extends beyond your workflow?
Jonathan Cullen, vice president and general counsel of Pfizer Canada, shows how by learning to give out principle-based advice, you can:
- Empower your clients
- Free up your time for greater impact
- Do more with less
- Increase client/lawyer collaboration
- Proliferate engagement to solve big problems
Have you ever noticed that most of us no longer paper agreements!
Even the wording sounds funny. “Paper” is no longer a verb. Just like we no longer fax messages, use Rolodexes, or rely on typewriters to write letters.
If you’re thinking: Don’t tell me what to say. I can speak Latin if I choose. Yes, you may have a point!
There may be a reason to wear a Prince Albert coat, dial a rotary phone, telegraph a message, speak Latin, include a fax field in a contract, paper an agreement, or resort to countless other archaic practices.
But if your goal is to communicate good legal advice clearly, it’s hard to imagine how utilizing ineffective, outdated technology will get you there. Hence why the ability to help businesses digitize quickly and competently is a must-have quality for the modern in-house leader.
Public Policy Leadership
Finally, one last skill for an effective, in-house legal advice is knowing table stakes. GCs and in-house lawyers today increasingly manage a much, much wider scope and thus much have a broader knowledge base.
Therefore, they must stay proactive, engaged, and informed about what is going on in the world, industry, and community. That knowledge will help inform frameworks for:
- Business operations
- Reputation management
- Corporate citizenship
- Market place participation
- Policy direction
- Social impacts
- Navigating politics
- Crisis management
- Cross-border issues
- Safety positioning
Here is Pooja Bedi, formerly with Juul Labs, discusses how in-house lawyers can have an impact navigating policy crisis.
The modern in-house counsel is on the front lines of industry changes and often is the first to identify and hopefully understand those changes. And these days, things are changing faster than ever.
It’s no surprise, then, that the role of the general in-house counsel is also always changing. Yesterday’s in-house counsel had far fewer responsibilities to lead an organization with regards to technology and overseeing its impact on internal processes. But that’s just the beginning. Today’s modern in-house counsel is an organizational leader and should know how to inspire changes and growth internally while remaining tuned into what’s happening in the greater world.
Olga V. Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. She founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat and Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security. You can follow Olga on Twitter @olgavmack.
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