2 tips for hiring and managing your in-house team as General Counsel

Katie Cook


by Katie Cook

business-brainstorming-concept_23-2147506559.jpgHow to pick the right people for and foster and manage your in-house legal team

I recently considered:

* The skills required by today’s GCs - http://blog.contractroom.com/developing-the-skills-for-being-an-outstanding-general-counsel; and 

Let’s now take a look at how you can best choose and manage your team for a modern in-house legal practice.

1. Picking the right people and the importance of diversity

Inside Counsel magazine recently published an article entitled Best Practices for Building Strong Legal Departments.  In this article, they note that it’s not just technical ability that needs to be assessed but also emotional intelligence and the ability to get along with others.  It’s essential that those you hire are team players.  Those who are extremely competitive and focussed on themselves usually do not turn out to be the best players in an in-house legal environment.  Also to ensure you maintain are positive culture it pays to hire lawyers with a predisposition towards happiness even when things do not appear to be going their way - e.g. their careers may not be advancing as quickly as they would like due to economic conditions.

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Also consciously working on building diverse can prove beneficial. Mark Roellig in his recent interview with LegalTalk, Skills for Success as a General Counsel, talked about the benefits of diversity.  He explains there are several reasons why diversity can enrich your legal team.  He notes that the population is changing and as it does so does the demographic of potential company customers.  If your workers are from the same demographics as prospective customers they are more likely to be able to understand them and answer to their needs. He also considers that studies show that better decisions are made by diverse groups.  This also applies to corporate decision making and is due to a couple of reasons.  One of these is that diverse teams tend to be more innovative and creative.  This is because they have a wider range of perspectives. Innovation and creativity is valuable to corporate legal teams as, armed with the ability to be innovative and creative, teams are more likely to develop unique methods of solving problems that may not have been discovered or solved by a more homogeneous team.  Finally, Roellig observes that studies have shown that diverse teams in general, where people from all backgrounds are welcomed and accommodated, are more engaged in and productive at work. This is because they feel they can come to the office and be their true selves.

In order to create a diverse team you will need to take some positive action towards achieving this.  The first step towards this could be writing a diversity policy.  You will also need to get your current team on board with your vision to create an environment that fosters the values of diversity and inclusion.  It may be wise to organize some formal diversity training (e.g., training on unconscious bias) and/or include behaviors such as supporting diversity as something that is rated in your employees’ performance reviews.  

Your recruitment strategy also needs also to be aligned with your diversity objectives and diversity needs to become part of the brand you promote to potential employees. You could review on a regular basis how your legal team is tracking in terms of diversity.  In this review, you could ask questions such as:

  • Are individual projects within your organization staffed by employees from different backgrounds in proportion to the diverse nature of your entire organization?; and
  • Are people from diverse backgrounds represented at all levels in your organization?

You also will need to create an environment receptive to diversity.  This means you will need to acknowledge the realities of the lives of your in-house lawyers and enable them to fulfill the duties of their personal lives.  This may mean allowing for such things as a flexible schedule so your employees can work around their child care obligations or making sure your onboarding process includes a mentor/mentee program that promotes the spirit of diversity.

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2. Some general tips on management

Once you’ve picked the right people for your in-house team, it’s essential that you keep them happy.  This means managing your employees effectively.  There is a saying that employees don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers.  

Allowing your in-house lawyers opportunities for career progression is important for maintaining morale. The article in Inside Counsel notes the opportunities you can provide as a manager in an in-house practice do not always have to be ones that are traditional or vertical.  For example, some companies can allow in-house lawyers to rotate into business roles for a short period or work on general business projects while still working on their day-to-day legal work.  This allows lawyers to get exposure to the general world of business which can help them excel in their roles as in-house lawyers and be valuable for progression towards one day having the role of General Counsel.  This article also recommends ensuring your workers are kept informed of what’s happening in the company to prevent the negative consequences can ensue in an office from an out of control rumour mill.  

Roellig provides some other tips for managing your in-house team in his interview with LegalTalk.  Among them in relation to managing your in-house team, he recommends being clear on the expectations you have of your team and what you will not tolerate.  When someone does something out of line with what you have stipulated act on it quickly.  This includes terminating employees where necessary.  Reward and recognize those who really perform and enable your team by providing them with the resources they need to meet their objectives.  This includes providing them with the best legal technology for their roles.

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Roellig also advocates some other rules for being successful in your role as manager of an in-house team after being inspired to write a list after reading Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life by Donald Rumsfeld, Former Secretary of US Defence.  Some of these include always acting with routine efficiency, using metrics to measure results and always listening when smart people as dumb questions

So there you have some tips for how to choose the best team for your legal department as well as some ideas for best management.  What are your thoughts?  Have you recruited for and/or managed an in-house legal department?  What worked? What didn’t?

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About the author

Katie Cook

Katie Cook

Katie Cook is Director of Marketing, Communications and Legal Standards at ContractRoom. Originally from the east coast of Australia, she has a background as an Attorney having practiced in both public and private practice in Brisbane and Melbourne. Katie completed studies in journalism and is now combining her legal and writing skill sets in her role.

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