Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Goals - a year in review

At the beginning of the year I put out my goals for all to see in my New Year's post.  So now it's time to pay the piper and see how I did.  I had a couple of professional goals, one to strengthen my existing network.  Once again my network has come through for me when I really needed it and helped me land my newest gig, for which I am extremely grateful - it's an awesome job at a great company with a great team!  Thank you Amy!  But did I do what I could to help my network?  I made introductions as often as I could and referrals to very qualified folks - both public and private.  I supported a few friends in their political endeavors - if you're an AZ resident vote Christine Jones for governor and Tempe/east valley residents should definitely choose Kari Jill Granville-Minton for their newest University Lakes JP. (Both are incredibly intelligent and talented women with a lot of integrity and Arizona's best interests at heart.)  So I guess that one is still a work in progress, though it's better this year than it was last and I guess that's all you could ask for.

I also committed to becoming acquainted with a new area of the law.  I didn't take the courses I thought I would when I wrote that goal, but I have updated my knowledge in the areas surrounding payments as a part of my new job.  Still have a lot of learning to do, but I'm on my way.  Mark another one as a work in progress.

On the personal front I had two goals as well.  To spend more quality time with my family if not more quantity and to spend more "me" time without the guilt.  I took the summer off and got to spend an amazing amount of time with the boys.  I played games I've never heard of, supported them during their growing pains and got to know each of them just a bit better.  Since going back to work, I feel like we still have that strong bond that we forged over the summer and our time together is definitely more quality than before.  While this will be an on going goal for me for the rest of their lives, I think we've got the recipe down for now.

I still struggle with the "me" time without guilt, but have gotten a lot better at the "we" time without guilt.  We now make it a point to go out at least once a month without the kids.  We go to a movie or dinner or just shopping in peace.  We talk about goals, interests, or just general adult conversation that doesn't revolve around the kids.  I think this has brought us closer this year and strengthened our marriage. I'll get to the me time this year.  It may be easier to do now that I feel more secure in the relationships I have at home.

I know it's New Year's Eve and I should have my 2014 goals all in order.  But honestly, 2013 had so many ups and downs that I'm not sure where to start.  I'll need to think about it a bit more.  For now I'm happy to have survived 2013 and come out better for it.   

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dear Santa, a wish list from an in house lawyer

Dear Santa,

I know that it's Christmas Eve and you're busy delivering toys (or coal) to little boys and girls across the globe, but I haven't had time until now to write my wish list.  See I've just started a new job and it's been a bit hectic.  Combine that with playing Santa for my three boys in what little spare time there is and there hasn't been much "me" time in the last few weeks.  So I'm reaching out on the internet as only a blogger can.  My list has been years in the making. I haven't been at this new place long enough to make a full list, but over the past decade I've accumulated a few wishful thoughts.  Let's see some Christmas magic knock a few off the list?

I'd really like a contract management system that works exactly as advertised without a Phd in computer programming.  Something easy enough that sales people will adopt it without me threatening to withhold commission payments and thorough enough that it will actually make due diligence less of a night mare.

I'd LOVE it if the lawyer on the other side of the table didn't try to intimidate me by touting his resume or classification as some 'industry expert".  I get it, you're old and you've practiced for a long time.  Oh and you don't have ovaries so you're better than me.  Now that that's out of the way, can we also stop referring to female lawyers as "sweetie", "honey" or whatever other patronizing term of the day is.  I went to law school, took the bar and have sat in just as many negotiations, war rooms and board meetings as most of my peers.  Give it a rest!

Even better would be sales people who don't wait until the week before end of quarter/year to "rush" that one customer agreement because we need to make our numbers and no other sales person has procrastinated so I must not have anything to do.

Maybe, while we're getting really wishful, we can get support, transparency, and the tools needed to actually be effective at my job from my management team/board.  I'd spend a lot less time cleaning up the mess if someone would just let me sit in on a meeting or two, or let me buy that contract management system that won't meet my expectations (but is still better than nothing.)

CLE's that are actually relevant to my in house practice would be great!  You know, the kind that isn't just cover for some firm to tell me that I can't do it in house and I need to hire them.  Or buy their software.  Or give over all my data to the government.

Most of all, I just want a computer that doesn't crash when I'm 80% done with my redline/brief/email.  Or 10 minutes before deadline.  I back up often, but the 2-3 hours of IT recovery time kill me.  Every. Freakin'. Time.

As a bonus, if you think I've been really good this year, can we find someway so that all the important school events aren't scheduled on the same day/time as the board meeting, conference call, or staff meeting?  That would be ever so helpful, and the boys would thank you too.

Obviously all this won't fit in your bag of tricks, so maybe just the computer one?  I'm still pretty new at this job so maybe these won't be an issue.  So far they've been great.  But, ten years of experience tells me that my next 'industry expert' is waiting for me on the next sales call, which will be scheduled on December 29th - because numbers.

Happy holidays to all my in house brethren, or other want to be in house lurkers.  Share your wish list in the comments - just in case the big guy is taking a break from delivering toys and wants a real challenge.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Three P's: People, Politics and Priorities

I've recently started a new job and I'm reminded once again that the key to success for an in house lawyer is often not in how well they can evaluate the legal issues.  True success lies in the the three P's:  People, Politics and Priorities.  In an ideal world, we'd have genuine, personal connections with everyone we work with, there'd be no power plays or territorial behavior, and our legal priorities would line up perfectly with the business priorities.  If that describes your work world - play the lottery, you are that lucky.

For the rest of us, figuring out how to navigate the three P's while maintaining our integrity and professional responsibilities can be challenging.  Often the most complicated part of in house practice is not applying archaic legal principles to modern situations, but dealing with the personalities of the people you have to support.  Whether it be a VP whose risk profile is completely opposite to yours or a new sales person who thinks he should run the show, managing your relationships with people is critical to your ability to get the business to listen to you when it's important.  We all have personalities that we're drawn to or want to avoid. Unfortunately, we have to work with all types.  While it's always best to try to make that genuine connection with people - they'll come to you more often, sooner and with more important matters if they genuinely like you - it's not always possible.  For example, I'm not an outdoorsy sports person.  When I meet the guys and gals who would rather be running or camping, I don't usually have much in common with them.  It's hard to establish a rapport with someone whose interests are so foreign to you.  So you fake it a little.  I'm never going enjoy spending an afternoon with bugs buzzing around me while I'm too hot or too cold.  However I can enjoy the photography they bring back to the office or cheer them on in their next half marathon.  Over time a real connection may break through, and if not, at least I'm being likeable if not truly liked.

The more difficult challenge is the internal politics that surround any workplace.  Some of it comes from having real relationships with people, but more often it becomes an issue when there's a player who isn't interested in creating real relationships.  It doesn't really matter whether that's because they territorial or just ambitious and don't plan on sticking around for too long.  With these people you must be 'strategically professional' (a phrase I picked up from a colleague).  You're not getting anywhere with these people unless you can be valuable to them.  For these relationships you are always 'on' proving where you add value to the organization and their personal goals.  But be careful not to become too entrenched with a political player.  They don't tend to stay in one place for too long, or if they do it's because they are not afraid of throwing anyone under the bus when it suits them.

Even if you do get the relationship piece right and navigate the politics like a pro, you're still stuck with trying to prioritize your legal issues in a way that syncs up with the business.  This means matching risk profiles, budgets, goals and projected outcomes with the real day to day work your team does.  It's not always easy drawing the connection between your compliance program and business goals.  Especially if you haven't made the right people connections so that you get the inside information on what are the true business goals.  Best practice is to tie your priorities to the bottom line when possible.  When not directly possible, tie it to the less measurable annual goals or to some other teams goals.  Creating contract process that adds much needed controls on inconsistent practices?  Sell it as reducing the transaction time, providing reporting and insight into customer/employee behaviors or a reduction in due diligence cost and time.  And don't forget that the day to day needs will almost always outweigh the project timelines.  No one cares what great project you've just accomplished or what it does for the company if it takes two weeks to get an NDA reviewed and signed.

With a little skill and a lot of luck, navigating the three P's well will enable you to do great things in your career.  Or ensure that you never go anywhere.