Chief Legal Officers: paving the way for a cohesive and high performing legal department

ext (9)Last week LexisNexis facilitated a forum for Chief Legal Officers which focused on two key issues faced by those who manage legal operations: how to manage a global legal team and how to retain talent in a flat structure.

 

 

Communication is the key to a cohesive and high performing legal team

There was all round agreement that ensuring effective collaboration and a consistent level of service across locations is a key priority for legal teams. Having managed legal teams spread across the world the forum members shared their insight on how to manage a global team:

  • Get the team together
    On the whole team meetings were found to be the most effective method of increasing communication and the sharing of know-how. However, meetings are not without their pitfalls. Maintaining engagement over calls can be difficult and face to face meetings are a drain on the budget where travelling is involved.

     

    Whilst, weekly meetings for regional leads and direct reports were found to be effective in ensuring consistency, when it comes to global meetings with the wider team the experience of the forum participants was that monthly calls are more effective.  When teams are spread over different continents having a regular connection with the US, Europe and Asia is difficult - inevitably the US teams will need to have the meeting early in the morning and Asia teams late in the evening.This issue, combined with the typical laissez-faire nature of weekly meetings, meant that weekly meetings for the wider global team resulted in lost engagement.

    The experience is that it is much better practice to have less frequent (typically monthly) meetings which have a tighter agenda and a defined purpose. In addition, engagement can be increased by structuring the meetings so that they are hosted and chaired by different teams each time.

  • Technology
    In a digital age it has become increasingly easy to connect and share information using technology, the most common methods being:

     

    • shared databases such as SharePoint
    • work social media such as Yammer
    • internal webinars

Sometimes there can be a generational / cultural barrier to keeping connected through technology and often it is necessary to have top down encouragement of posting and commenting on these sites in order to make others feel more at ease.

  • Sharing international know-how
    There can often be a knowledge gap when you are working in a business that operates globally, for example a lawyer in the UK can be working on a contract which relates to business in another jurisdiction. It is critical for legal team to know what to look out for in these situations and ensure that they don’t fall foul of international law.

     

    Again, shared databases are very valuable and consistency of service can be ensured by having a database of standard precedents and information on international issues. Internet sources such as LexisNexis PSL and Freshfields were also found to be helpful and useful for getting international content and being aware of issues.

How to manage and retain talent in a flat structure

Working in-house is very different to private practice, especially in relation to career progression and it can often come as a shock to lawyers that reaching a certain level of experience does not automatically qualify you for a promotion - in most cases there needs to be a vacancy in the legal team in order for a promotion to take place. The experience has been that this can lead to frustration within the team and for talented people to leave the organisation. The key solutions that came out of the forum were:

  • Be honest
    An important aspect of ensuring that members of your legal team are happy is to make the nature of the legal team and career prospects clear early on – sometimes even as early as the interview stage. If the organisation is not able to offer certain career progression opportunities it is helpful to be very honest about it, but emphasise that there is other value to be gained from the position – namely the experience that the organisation that can offer.

    “When you are not able to promote someone talented – accept it when they move on and celebrate it as a success.”
  • Provide experience and exposure to new areas and skills
    One way of retaining talent in the organisation is to offer development of experience and new skills. This could include involving staff in corporate projects, providing assignments in areas of law outside of their expertise or offering shadowing opportunities e.g. with the Company Secretary, CFO etc
  • Promote into the business
    It may be possible for members of the legal team to get promoted into commercial / business roles. For example, the COO and HR lead at Christie’s International came from the legal department.
  • Offer experience in different geographical locations (provided there is a business case and a gap)
    Overall, it is important to understand what the personal development objectives of your employees are and also for the employees to understand the opportunities available in the organisation.

Get involved

We would love to hear about your experiences and of any other successful ways of bringing a global team together / retaining talent in a flat structure. Please get in touch and share your insight in the comments box below.

Our next Chief Legal Officers Forum will take place on 13 July 2016. For any queries or to express an interesting the network please email Sophie.gould@lexisnexis.co.uk

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