Strengthening leadership among lawyers
In-house lawyers can do more than just provide legal advice. Linda Mouaz shares her insight on rising to the role of being a business leader within the organisation.
In-house lawyers acting as business leaders is quite rare. Our profession is not particularly well-known for producing great leaders (rather than legal technicians); although we see this happening more often these days.
Just like clients of law firms, in-house ‘clients’ present many challenges which go beyond just expecting you to do good legal work. Having sat on both sides of the ‘in-house/private practice legal table’, I feel in-house ‘clients’ are more challenging to manage because they usually expect more from you than just legal advice. They expect you to take into account the needs and requirements of the business while issuing legal advice. In other words, they are not only expecting you to approach an issue from a legal perspective but also from a business perspective.
Understanding the business is key. You cannot be a good in-house lawyer if you do not fully understand the business of your company and, more importantly, how this business is being run and operated. For that reason, one should always ensure that legal is represented on the relevant committees/boards of your organisation, request that legal participates in business reviews, have the legal team members shadow business colleagues and request some reverse mentoring where business colleagues can train and coach legal team members on what they are doing. An in-house lawyer aiming to be a business leader should understand the big picture, identify the vision, the objectives and the acceptable risk exposure of his/her company. Do not only focus on the legal considerations of a specific transaction but instead show that you are taking responsibility for the company’s business as a whole.
Building relationships, a network and develop your personal brand. You can be great at your job but it may not be enough. Your good work does not count if nobody knows about it. You can spend hours at your desk – I did it and I am still doing it! You might feel productive but to maximise your rewards, you have to get out of your chair. You have to be liked and respected. This is not about being liked to simply feel good about yourself or to be the most popular person in your organisation. It is about being someone others enjoy working with and who brings positive energy to people around him/her. Your personal brand comes from being liked and respected. If you are, you may be able to influence people beyond the existing hierarchical lines and authority matrix which would lead to commitment rather than purely compliance. Build meaningful relationships across the organisation; not only with superiors or top management but also with peers and subordinates. Make it a point to have lunch with people other than your legal colleagues and, instead of solving everything through an email or over the phone, stop by their desks and have face-to-face discussion (of course, as a lawyer, confirm by email then). Use the internal tools of your company to share your legal success stories and be visible (internal communications, etc.).
Be replaceable. In the corporate world, the ones that I found to be the most difficult to work with are those who do not share information. They act as if they are afraid that you will outshine them if they give you access to everything you need in terms of knowledge and/or resources to do your job. As a principle, I try to always share my knowledge with my team and support them by providing tools that they can use to do their job more efficiently. By doing that, you are doing much more than sharing information; you are building trust and loyalty within your team or legal peers. You should be confident enough to never worry that the success of a specific legal team member or peer might make you look bad. In fact, I strongly believe that their success is your success. Leadership means putting others ahead of yourself (by focusing on empowerment) and putting your legal team members ahead of everyone else. You will be recognised and rewarded for that.
Linda Mouaz, head of legal & compliance officer – Nestlé Middle East FZE