Thursday, October 4, 2012


I've been practicing for a while now and I have come to know two things with certainty.  One, I am really good at my job.  Time and again, my instincts prove true.  Even when I lacked the communication skills to persuade my business partners to take me seriously, events usually played out like I thought they would.  This makes me very good at my job, as I'm able to quickly ascertain what the risks are and know what we should do to mitigate or respond.  Being able to respond quickly and within the tolerances of the company saves us time and money.  Something every business person respects.  Knowing this also gives me confidence when communicating to my peers and management team.  The skill set and institutional knowledge I have gained over my years of in house practice have made me very valuable to my employer.

The second thing I know with absolute certainty is that I could be replaced in a heartbeat.  No matter how good I am at my job, there's always going to be someone who is better.  Or someone who has the capacity to learn and will do it for cheaper.  If the internal politics or overall business strategy dictates that instead of a corporate generalists we need a specialist to serve the business better, then I'm replaceable.  In house lawyers are subject to economic forces to a greater extent than firm lawyers.  We're a cost center and when the company is feeling pain, it has to reduce costs.  If a less experienced lawyer shows aptitude to pick up on the same skills that I have, but will do it at 2/3rds the pay, I'm replaceable.  If we hire a new CFO who doesn't like the color of my hair, then I'm replaceable.  (For those wondering - it's red for now, although not a true ginger so I think I still have a soul, but some people just don't like redheads...)

What it means for me, and for anyone else in my position, is that I have to constantly prove my worth.  I have to make the value I add to the organization known in a way that highlights my unique value as well as the value of the law department generally.  And I have to do this in a humble way so as not to be seen as a diva demanding kudos at every turn.  Add to the complexity that you're usually proving the negative (we saved millions by not doing that because we weren't sued/fined/etc, without having proof that you would have been sued/fined/etc had you acted differently), and you're usually proving value to people who have no clue what you do day to day.

One way to do this is to make sure that you (and your work) has visibility within the organization.  Present metrics to your management team about what you're doing.  Quantify and qualify the work that you're doing. e.g. I review an average of 20 contracts a month, with an average turnaround time of 2 days. While you don't add it to the graph, make sure they know that it used to take the outside counsel 2-3 weeks to get a single contract turned around for a much higher cost than in house.  Tie preventative measures to cost savings. e.g. Since we've incorporated management training regarding employment law basics, we've seen a decrease of 10% in the number of employment based claims/threats.  By putting the value of the legal team into the same format that they use to judge the value of the ops team or the marketing team, you'll begin to illustrate the value of legal generally.

The harder part is illustrating the value of you personally.  Why you over the new guy who's cheaper or the other guy who's done nothing but litigation in his career?  For corporate generalists like me, prepare your charts in a way that incorporates on a single page the wide variety of things you're able to manage internally without outside costs.  Work the internal politics and make sure you've got advocates from each group that you support.  Give them what they need before they need it and you'll be seen as invaluable.  If your IT manager knows that she doesn't have to train you on how the technology works every time a new IT contract comes up, and your HR manager knows that he can count on you to know the answer to that FMLA question immediately, they'll go to bat for you if discussion of replacing you comes around.  And while I hate to say it, not all teams are created equal in the corporate world.  Within your organization you will have a hierarchy of whose opinion matters most.  It may be HR or Finance, it may be Sales.  Whoever it is, make them  a priority.  And for those whose opinions are considered but not always solicited, give them the best service you can but don't kill yourself trying to prioritize everyone.  As much as it pains me to admit it, the third thing I have learned with absolute certainty is that in the corporate world, politics matters as much if not more than how good you are at your job.

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