How to show the effectiveness of you and your team to the board
There is no doubt that the legal team and GCs are key to any organisation.
However, it's important to take some steps to demonstrate your value to the business and leadership.
This will lead to more buy in when you present your ideas to the board, because they will appreciate the opinion of a colleague more if they perceive them as integral to the business.
There are many inventive and inspiring ways you and your legal team can show value.
You just need to step out of your comfort zone and understand the value you and your role brings to the business by not getting boxed into a stereotypical idea of what a lawyer should be perceived as.
Whether you are in a department of one or in a team of lawyers, you can bring much more to the table than only your legal expertise.
You are in a unique position to influence the overall activities of the business as in-house lawyers often have a wider knowledge and a broader skill set than other senior members within the company.
The most effective way to harness and utilise these skills is to take full advantage of ways in which you can immerse yourself in the business, and in doing so, get to know the ‘movers and shakers’ on a personal level.
What makes them tick, how best to communicate with them, and what are the best working dynamics if people are working together?
These are all questions you should continually ask yourself, especially when embarking on a big project.
The more you learn about the industry you work in and the company you work for, the more effective you will be in advising them in the context of a business dilemma and providing them with solutions and not only providing legal advice.
Your position should not just be ancillary to the leadership team; and you should position yourself as an integral part and key player in the decision-making process to fully demonstrate your worth.
With broader knowledge and skills, we can fully participate in leadership discussions on complex problems and produce creative solutions by helping shape discussion and debate around business issues.
Know your finance team
This might not be the most popular advice, but if you really want to make an impact on the business, get to know your finance team!
If you can obtain a working knowledge of finance, you will have a much more mindful approach when providing advice and the impact on the company’s balance sheet when communicating your opinion.
This is not to say you will always give the most cost-effective advice, but if you can consider the cost/benefit analysis beforehand, your advice is much more likely to be received favourably.
Be a leader and a team player
You should also be working on your team building and leadership skills to collaborate effectively with other departments such as HR, marketing and sales.
Shadowing other team members and working with them on specific projects is a win/win for both parties as they will also get to know you as not just the lawyer that they go to when they are in a bind, but as a colleague that they can trust and work with before a catastrophe arises.
In your role, you can see the holistic picture more clearly than most and think about long-term implications of giving advice rather than a short-term quick fix.
You can help manage and analyse the likely outcomes and anticipate the potential pitfalls from a more balanced perspective.
By forging close working relationships with your non-legal leadership team, you can dispel the myth that you are always risk-averse and excessively detail orientated.
Think about whom you are communicating with and avoid legal jargon, so people understand your opinion or point of view and feel more comfortable asking for your advice.
Put yourself out there
Don’t be chained to your desk or hide behind emails and make sure you meet people in their comfort zones so that you can get the best from them.
Only then will you benefit from better judgement and increased emotional intelligence and find the best way to deal with difficult personalities.
Be proactive in finding opportunities and don’t shy away from complex projects.
Learn to take calculated risks (within legal parameters) and discover new skills whenever you can. You will soon be recognised for your willingness to collaborate rather than being boxed in as ‘just a lawyer’.
We can add value in so many ways by relationship building and risk-taking. It’s all about pushing yourself out of your own self-taught limitations.
What’s the worst that can happen? You make a mistake, or you fail to add value on a project.
This isn’t about failing: it’s an opportunity for a learning experience, and we all benefit from empiricism.
We are so much more than our title denotes.
We can be an integral part of the senior leadership team and advise the board by providing a critically effective combination of legal and business advice.
We, of all people, should know not to judge a book by its cover!
To quote from my favourite movie, Legally Blonde, “you have all the equipment, you just need to read the manual…”.