4 themes faced by in-house lawyers from LBCambridge September 2016

The LBCambridge programme was established in 2006 by LBC Wise Counsel as a residential skills development programme for in-house lawyers. The 21st LBCambridge took place at Queens’ College, Cambridge in September 2016. The traditional opening keynote session on the first full day is designed around themes which the delegates identify as their most pressing issues. We ask the delegates what is “top of mind”, then discuss and debate these ideas with them and then distil these conversations into a presentation.

The presentation I deliver is without slides or notes, but seeks to build on the concerns, opportunities and ambitions of the delegates attending the programme. I try to make it as accessible as possible with as much practical content as I can offer. At September’s event the points that mattered most to this cohort of delegates revolved around defining purpose, becoming more influential, demonstrating value and stepping beyond business-as-usual.

In this report I will explore these themes in a little more detail reflecting the presentation made to delegates at the September 2016 LBCambridge programme.

1. PURPOSE is the key to unlock almost everything.

Without a sense of role and purpose we are left to simply explore ways to get busy. We conflate being busy with adding value, we create dependency using that to justify our needs and we overly on relationships at the expense of data.

However if we define our purpose more substantially several things then fall into place:

  • We see that our role has a scope for which some things are in scope and some things are out of scope. We are immediately empowered to push back when it is out of scope.
  • We can see how we are aligned to the goals of the business and the business can more clearly see the reasons for our involvement and the contribution we make.
  • We can more easily see the measures that will demonstrate we are achieving our in-scope goals.
  • Furthermore it helps us to shape a contribution that steps beyond dependency, pleasing people and being busy for being busy’s sake.

2. INFLUENCE is a funny word to use in a way. It is not about achievement, or targets or sales or risk. It is at best a soft skill that imbues our perception of role, but may not be visible, measurable or even desired. A chief executive once told me she did not rate her GC very highly (apparently a “lawyer’s lawyer”) and did not particularly want him to be more influential! However while in-house lawyers persistently wish to garner more influence my strong steer is not to seek it. You will just sound needy. My strong steer is to do four things instead:

  1. Be thoroughly, passionately, enthusiastically interested in what your business does. Way beyond what you need to know to fill in a contract template, show that you care about what the business does, how it does it and how much it means to you to be part of the story
  2. Have a view on products, marketing, markets, competitors, suppliers, customers etc. Maintaining an independent mindset should not be confused with disinterest or studied indifference.
  3. Chat to people like their jobs are more important than yours. Be interested in them as people too. Two thirds of our lives, and more, are not in the office. Know the people, know their pressures, and know their priorities.
  4. Finally, and frankly most importantly, be bloody good at your job. Meet your promises, be consistent, take care of your presentation, don’t make assumptions, ask people to step up to their responsibilities so you can step up to yours and ultimately deliver damn fine legal work.

3. DEMONSTRATING VALUE is a curious idea. I am convinced lawyers think there are secret ways to show we make a great contribution and if only they knew the magic password all would be revealed. So here is the magic password – “purpose”.

In essence – “what does your business want you to do? And have you done it?”

When we have the answers to these questions it really ought to be pretty straightforward to say back – “if this is what you want me to do, then this is how you will know I have done it.” And there in front of your eyes will be the measures to prove you have achieved your purpose as agreed by your business.

Clearly it is more complex. Equally clearly it is easier to write in a few words than it is to implement. However for heaven’s sake it is not rocket science. Look for the simple not the complex. Measure what can seen and experienced, align this to your work, not to esoteric concepts only lawyers care about, share it with your colleagues and finally use the data to improve what you do.

4. STEPPING BEYOND THE DAY-TO-DAY work needs more clarity. At one level it smacks of “I’m bored now, what else can I do?” However more benignly it is about institutionalising good practices, improving (qualitatively and quantifiably) policy and process and having the space and time to intervene more strategically in the way your business works.

These ideas go hand-in-hand with purpose, showing value and becoming more influential, but there is an investment first. There are three questions you must answer before you can move away from the day-to-day:

  1. Can you credibly describe the work you want to move away from and the consequences for the business of transitioning away from the work?
  2. Is the transition one that has benefits for the business? What are those benefits and how will they will be revealed?
  3. Do you have the skills to manage a project like this for change?

If you can do these things you will succeed. If you cannot do these things you will claim that the business should now recruit a junior lawyer to look after the work so you can do something else; in doing so you will potentially embed inefficiency, store up management problems for later and put a doubt in the minds of colleagues that you are a contributor.

The challenge is always a big one, but if you start where this report began by looking at purpose, you give yourself the best chance to make it work.

Filed Under: Analysis , Events

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