I’m about a month in at Lexion, and while my kids are quietly studying in the other room in the calm serenity of quarantine, from my kitchen table, I thought I would share my playbook for how a GC can win over their new colleagues. Actually, I’m kidding about the quiet and tranquility part - I have lost control over my children and homeschooling resembles “Lord of the Flies” increasingly each day.
Lexion is the third time I was hired as the first in-house attorney for an organization. I’ve shared my thoughts on the characteristics you should have if you choose this path in this Law.com article. TLDR - it is not for the faint of heart, but a lot of fun to the right person.
Key Actions to take as an In-House General Counsel
While we don’t have control over what’s happening in the world and the impact on consumer behavior, here’s my playbook on where a new GC should start. I’m going to skip over the obvious, such as learn the business, and identify other key actions you should take.
- Meet your key stakeholders. In many organizations legal has the reputation of being a bottleneck or a place you go to hear "no." Many of us have borne the brunt of frustrated sales leaders at the end of a quarter or impatient CFOs looking for a pile of answers. But like all relationships, much of this comes from poorly set expectations and lack of communication or context. Set-up weekly 1-1s with key stakeholders, and attend their monthly or quarterly planning sessions to learn their priorities. This will clarify expectations and allow you to customize metrics and reports of the legal team’s activities in a way that makes sense to these internal clients.
- Understand business jargon. If you don’t know business jargon and metrics and how to read financial statements already, learn it. You need to understand and be well versed in various business metrics for finance, sales, marketing, etc. For example, I’m going to make a wild guess that your company will be focused on surviving this challenging period where growth plans are cut in half (or more). You can help. Partner closely with finance to develop a strategy to cut expenses, predict revenue, and manage cash flow. To learn how you can help through analyzing your contracts, check out our article, “6 Lexion Reports to Help You Pivot Plans During a Pandemic.”
- Capture metrics and set-up reporting. All C-level executives and the board are metrics-focused. Other than our past law firm lives of billing our time, most lawyers are not. Don’t be like most lawyers. Be strategic, data-driven, and solution-oriented. Because of your function, you’re viewed as the cost center and barrier to closing a deal. Show-up to the table armed with data to help shift this perception. Most departments have KPIs, OKRs, or other metrics they regularly review and report on - legal should be no different. But for any of these goal setting systems to work, you need a practice of capturing metrics and reporting on them. It doesn't have to be complex, you can use a spreadsheet. In a separate post, we’ll share some suggested metrics GCs should capture, my GC stories (I have a lot of them) that evidence why these metrics matter, and how Lexion can help make this process efficient when you’re ready to move beyond the spreadsheet.
- Establish processes. Is your team working out of email inboxes and handling all requests over email/Slack? Are you getting asked about the status of a project, and then following up by email/Slack to collate these? While this process is adequate when volume is low and manageable, it does not scale and it’s not sustainable. And this process breaks when volume grows, there’s turnover, or someone is out of the office (ok, we’re all out of the office, but not WFH). But it’s also very common. At a minimum, create an intake process, SLAs for certain types of requests, and playbooks to educate and allow high users of legal to self-serve and reduce requests to legal.
- Get your contracts under control. Most GCs are not successfully set-up to answer the question: "Broken down by department, which vendor contracts auto-renew and are up for renewal the next few months?" But GCs are expected to know this. Even for the hundreds or thousands of contracts that were signed before the GC started. Take advantage of this time to get a handle on the contract situation. When times are good, your time will be sucked up by revenue generating projects. First, find out where your contracts live and how they are organized (hint: they’re probably not in a consistent and easy-to-find way). Then, establish a process of capturing what's in your contracts. Most fancy contract management systems don’t help you with organizing your legacy contracts (a huge pain point). Lexion does with the power of our AI. Am I harping on data again? Yes, and you’ll continue to hear this from me because businesses now expect legal teams to be data-driven. Until you have a tool like Lexion that can automate this tracking and reporting process, a spreadsheet is your friend.
- Learn what matters most to the CEO. Ideally, you report to the CEO and learn first-hand the CEO’s core values. The CEO brought you here to get a job done and solve a pain point, and understanding how the CEO defines success for your role and how that translates to business value will ensure that you are aligned on key priorities from day 1. In addition to your communications, other indicators of what matters to the CEO include the CEO’s professional background (because people value what they truly understand), where the CEO invests company funds, the metrics the board is focused on, and the allocation of headcount at the company.
- Join a GC community. Being a GC is hard. Good news - you’re not alone. There are amazing communities out there to support and help you. A few GC communities I enjoy are TechGC, the Association of Corporate Counsel, and the Women’s General Counsel Network founded by Jan Kang. These communities provide templates and the GCs that are a part of these networks openly share information, referrals, and provide a great benchmark regarding what your peers are doing on issues we’re all encountering.
It's really hard to win hearts and minds and get business support without data to help you tell a story. Invest now in scaling your operations, including how you gather and report on what’s in your contracts, so it hurts less later. Long and short term, time and money will be saved.
Lesson: Be a data-driven GC. Honestly, I wish I executed my playbook more successfully in my previous in-house roles. This wish has inspired Lexion’s mission to be the hub for the data-driven legal team. Learn from my experiences and do it better.