People expect most lawyers to be Type A personalities. The assumption is that the lawyer will be the loudest person in the room, the person not afraid to speak up when necessary, and most importantly, the person who looks for the spotlight on every occasion. However, the reality is often very different than the expectation.
Many lawyers I have met throughout my career, especially in-house counsel, are hard-working, dedicated, strategic individuals who are also, in many cases, hesitant to take credit for their own achievements and the achievements of their legal team.
Unfortunately, if you do not advertise and promote your achievements, you will only be known by your failures, or your role will be seen as only a cost-centre and not a critical strategic-business partner. In-house counsel need to be true to thine own selves and need to learn to be their own cheerleader.
What follows are key strategies and behavioural changes that, if adopted, individually or by the legal team, will make the legal function appear to be the valuable resource that it is.
In labour relations, it is often said that those who do their jobs well make their jobs look too easy and unnecessary, since they are able to deal with issues and concerns early on and effectively before they become larger problems.
In-house practice is similar in that the business group often may not know what you do and may not see the value in the legal function because there are few, if any, fires burning or issues on the go. It is therefore imperative that you trumpet and advertise your wins and your achievements.
"For some, learning to be a cheerleader starts with commending the victories of others. I have many clients who are not your typical 'type-A lawyer personality.' Tooting their own horn is far more difficult than recognizing the accomplishments of their peers," says Paulette Pommells of Creative Choices for the 21st Century Lawyer. Paulette coaches lawyers to work with their strengths.
She cites an example: "If you've been involved in a deal where the sales department has done a really good job, tell others about it – the CEO, VP of sales – or write about it in a legal department report. It will not go unnoticed that you or your department had a role to play in that deal. As in-house counsel, your function is inherently supportive, so why not live up to that standard? When was the last time you said something positive about, or to, one of your clients? Is the message always doom and gloom? The foundation you create by taking the time to comment on a job well done can build in other areas. Consider the client who begins to trust you or your legal team enough to bring potential problems to your attention before they happen!"
Advertising your victories will not only confirm the value that you bring to the team or the value of your legal department, but it also makes the business team aware of the consequences, so as soon as (or if) a similar issue arises again, they will be at your door seeking assistance right away.
Social media is a critical mode of communication in today's business and legal landscape. Having an active and visible presence on sites such as LinkedIn is critical, as it not only provides you with instant access to a large network and your contacts' contacts, but it is also a large soap box from which you can promote yourself and your achievements.
Obviously you must be judicious in what you say and publish, but sharing a recent court decision you were managing (once it is public), discussing your involvement in important volunteer or community initiatives, and/or providing general examples of your work is highly recommended. If you do not have a LinkedIn account, get one now!
There are numerous prestigious awards seeking to acknowledge and publicize the achievements of in-house lawyers and legal teams that make extraordinary contributions to their business, their profession and/or their communities. These awards include the Innovation awards (organized by Canadian Lawyer InHouse magazine), the Canadian General Counsel Awards, and others administered by the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel.
Lawyers should be proactive in nominating their legal teams for such awards. Also, if you feel your contributions merit recognition, do not hesitate to ask work and/or professional colleagues to nominate you. Bite your pride. As Wayne Gretzky once famously said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."
Law firms and in-house counsel associations are frequently looking for speakers to discuss issues relating to substantive law and other best practices with regard to in-house practice. Not only is this a great learning experience, an opportunity to network, and most importantly for those of us with tight budgets, an opportunity to attend the events on a complimentary basis, but they also get your name out there, and it could make you a subject matter expert.
In my experience, once you get your foot in the door and gain experience by participating in these seminars/conferences, more will come your way. This is also a great opportunity to gain self-confidence with regard to public speaking. Keep in mind not everyone is a gifted speaker, but we all have interesting experiences and a viewpoint to share, and the more you speak at these events the better a speaker you'll become.
Finally, if you are interested but not asked, reach out to a fellow colleague at a firm or on the board with one of these organizations and let them know you are interested.
I hope the recommendations above work and that, as you put some of these suggestions into practice, not only will you enhance your standing and the value of your legal department in the eyes of the business, but also in the eyes of colleagues in the in-house legal profession.
Fernando Garcia is the General Counsel for Nissan Canada, Inc. Fernando's duties include providing strategic and legal advice on Canada-wide dealer operations, labour relations and employment law, government affairs and all general legal matters. He holds an MIR from the University of Toronto, and LLB/BCL from McGill and recently completed an MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Column originally appeared on the Canadian Lawyer InHouse web site. Canadian Lawyer InHouse was the first magazine in Canada to solely serve corporate counsel. Each week it comprehensively covers the Canadian market online and in print.