3 Steps In-House Lawyers Can Take to Thrive in the New Year
The start of a new year is often marked with resolutions to do things differently, whether in our personal or professional lives. However, despite the best of intentions, competing priorities and unexpected events can easily sidetrack these goals. This year, the threat of a recession looms large and is already beginning to impact business across all sectors, including legal services. For in-house legal departments, such predictions will likely create pressure to do more internally with fewer resources, which is why lawyers must double down on setting goals for themselves and following through in order to meet the challenges of the year ahead.
Easier said than done? Here are 3 proactive steps (resolutions, if you will) that an in-house legal team can take to ensure they remain a value center within an organization, even in the face of cost control measures and other pressures.
- Re-evaluate your approach to risk
Lawyers are sometimes accused of “over-lawyering” a situation – moving too slowly and flagging every possible issue to the detriment of larger business objectives. Although this approach may be warranted in certain situations (e.g., in high risk transactions where the client has little to no leverage), this is not always the case. However, by investing time getting to know the client better, in-house lawyers will more likely strike the right balance in their risk mitigation approach. For example, when in-house counsel attends operational or planning meetings, they develop a deeper understanding of the ”bigger picture,” which in turn, enables them to align their approach with department goals and take a more proactive approach to issue spotting, resulting in fewer delays and greater overall efficiency.
- Align on communication and strategy
Effective communication starts with listening – taking the time to understand a client’s needs and goals, which may differ by function within the same organization. Short of this, a lawyer risks missing important details and nuances, resulting in the need to “cut/paste” from previous matters. Likewise, it also important to keep clients well informed, not simply by providing updates or issuing warnings about what not to do, but, perhaps more importantly, by explaining legal issues in practical, layman’s terms within the context of a client’s work. This approach to communication helps to build trust and encourages internal clients to seek out advice on both legal and business issues. Moreover, by speaking the same language, an in-house lawyer is more likely to be viewed as a valuable strategic partner who helps get things done, as opposed to an obstacle.
- Embrace opportunities to innovate
Many lawyers prefer to “stay in their lane” by handling only those transactions that fall within their areas of experience (in other words, their comfort zone). However, as workloads continue to expand and budgets shrink, in-house attorneys should embrace opportunities to expand their skill-sets and take on work outside the scope of their previous experience. For example, devote time to learning about new technologies and how they may impact the company’s product or services offerings. Additionally, consider how new digital tools designed for the legal industry – e.g., contract management applications, document review and e-discovery – may help with managing burgeoning work volumes and improving efficiencies within the legal function.
Making resolutions and setting goals are both tried-and-true ways of achieving success. In the business world, failure to innovate or adapt can lead to becoming obsolete. Although 2023 is shaping up to be a difficult year, in-house attorneys who stretch themselves professionally will be more likely to survive and thrive in the coming year.