Teamwork Key to In-house Success

How to be an advisor who spots legal pitfalls…and still be part of the team. Many in-house lawyers struggle with these dual roles.

Both law school and law firm practice teach lawyers to spot problems and to disclose the problems to clients.  So, many clients see lawyers in a negative light:  lawyers are the ones that impede progress.

To be effective, in-house attorneys need to be seen not just as problem spotters, but also as solution builders.  In-house lawyers need to be considered part of the team.

Yesterday I discussed this topic at an Association of Corporate Counsel meeting.  One lawyer explained how he fired several junior attorneys when he became general counsel of a public communications corporation; his clients had resisted working with the junior attorneys, viewing them as too inexperienced and obstructionist. This general counsel then improved his department’s credibility by hiring seasoned lawyers who knew how to find solutions.

Sometimes an in-house lawyer has to work hard to build bridges of trust, especially if his clients considered his predecessor an obstructionist. So, how do in-house lawyers become part of the team?

Some try to cultivate good relations with their clients by having lunch with them, stopping by their offices to chat, or getting to know them outside of work. When I moved in-house after years of law firm practice, I was amazed at how much time I suddenly spent traveling and socializing with my clients, all for the sake of teamwork.

Many in-house attorneys try to attend lots of planning and other business meetings to stay abreast of their clients’ goals. Other successful in-house lawyers expressly tell their clients that they want to become a constructive team member and add value by making business move along more smoothly.

If you are an in-house counsel, let your clients know that you want to help them reach their goals.  Tell them that you will work proactively to try to find solutions to any legal problems.  Then build trust by making your actions match your words.  Teamwork is a true key to in-house success.

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