Adding Value as In-House Counsel: Principle 3
In this 4-part series, we’re discussing the various ways in-house lawyers can add value within an organization. Drawing on 30 years of legal experience, I have identified 4 universal principles that attorneys can follow to demonstrate their true business savvy and legal skills. As previously shared, principle 1: “know your client’s business” and principle 2: “understand the real question being asked” are both critically important practices proven to help attorneys build trust and strengthen client relationships. Next, we will review the third principle: “stop saying ‘no’.”
Principle 3: Stop Saying “No”
Yup, you heard me correctly – remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. Since everybody LOVES the word “yes,” stop telling your clients what they can’t do and start telling them what they can do by using “yes-focused” language when facilitating a solution to a problem.
How can a simple change in language help move the business forward, especially when there are in fact certain things businesses won’t legally be able to do? The answer lies in the following fundamental truths about effective communication:
- The word “no” often creates an immediate barrier in any relationship. Between lawyers and their internal clients, a “no” response can hinder the lawyer’s ability to build trust and establish a positive working relationship. Internal clients and business units may perceive the “no-focused” lawyer as inflexible, unhelpful, or unwilling to explore creative solutions to their legal problems.
- Saying “no” implicitly limits creative thinking. A brain that is pre-wired to focus on what can’t be done is less likely to search for alternative solutions to legal problems. However, by staying open to all options and exploring different angles before communicating with a client, a lawyer is more likely to deliver business-focused solutions, resulting in better outcomes for clients.
- “No” can be interpreted as a lack of understanding. When clients hear “no” from their lawyer, they may question the lawyer’s grasp of the relevant business and legal issues. Lawyers should strive to use language that demonstrates their legal knowledge and business acumen, tailoring their advice accordingly.
For example, a client asks if it is acceptable to use a customer logo for marketing purposes. The lawyer reviews the contract and determines that it is silent on the issue. What is the best response then? Without an affirmative license to use trademarks or logos, the client likely does not have an automatic right to do so. A less experienced lawyer might simply say, “no, we can not use the logo because the contract does not expressly allow it.” However, this response leaves the business team without an actionable solution.
By employing principle 2 (understand the real question being asked) and principle 3 (stop saying no), the lawyer instead asks several probing follow-up questions (e.g., how do we specifically plan to use the logo; in what context and for how long; what is the nature of the relationship with this customer?). Based on those answers, the lawyer might respond as follows:
“Although the contract doesn’t address that point, given our strong relationship with the customer, we may be able to use the logo simply by explaining our intent and obtaining their consent. I am happy to help with the communication approach if you would like.”
As you can see, by avoiding the word “no” when advising a client, a lawyer is more likely to foster a positive and productive lawyer-client relationship, build trust, suggest creative solutions and be viewed as a true value-add to the organization.
For more insight on how in-house lawyers can add value to their organization, stay tuned for the final post coming tomorrow. In the meantime, if you have any questions , please contact Jason Karp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 571-233-3829.
Jason Karp is a Member of our New York-area team with more than 30 years of experience in the telecom, technology, media, XaaS, and public safety industries. Jason works with businesses of all sizes, handling a wide range of complex commercial and corporate transactions, as well as business operations and market strategy, corporate governance, compliance program development and implementation, and regulatory and policy advocacy and strategy. He also serves as Chief Legal and Human Capital Officer for Affinaquest.