Event Recap: How to Build a Successful Legal Department

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By Dana Quinn
| Event Recap In-House Voices

Breakfast Panel Event

How do you build a successful legal department? What resources are important and how should they be marshalled?

To answer these challenging questions, Priori convened a breakfast panel with Sari Granat, Managing Director and General Counsel of Markit where she heads up a 40 person legal department, Cyna Alderman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of New York Daily News, where she runs a 5 person legal department, and David Pashman, solo General Counsel of Meetup.

We’ll post interviews with each panelist in the coming weeks, but key themes from the conversation are below:

  • Make your legal department indispensable to your business teams. Effective in-house lawyers partner with business teams to help grow the company. Legal is often perceived as a cost-center rather than a revenue-generator, so our panelists all look for opportunities to educate their internal clients about how legal can add value and save money when legal is used proactively. For example, a legal department can contribute to the company’s growth strategy by using legal’s uniquely broad perspective on the company to bring together ideas and initiatives across departments. When the legal department has a strong internal reputation, business teams will approach legal departments for feedback on both strictly legal and legal-adjacent matters. This means that legal will be looped in earlier in the planning phases of initiatives and can proactively partner with business teams to ensure successful, smooth transactions and new product roll-outs.
  • Communicate. Communication drives all areas of legal department success. Being the kind of lawyer who has enough humility to ask business teams to start from the beginning and explain an intricate product or proposed deal allows you to fully understand the business side and provide appropriate, calibrated guidance. Communication can also help lawyers understand the relative priorities and realistic timelines of business teams, which allows general counsel to effectively prioritize and manage the legal department. Finally, once the scope and priority of a project is clear, communication can convey legal advice and persuade business teams that legal is acting as a problem solver rather than a problem maker.

  • Hire Smart. Hiring begins with legal department strategy, not candidate qualification. Though needs vary based on legal department size, all panelists agreed that the strongest in-house candidates demonstrate generalist-style flexibility (both in terms of skills and EQ) paired with business judgment. Even in departments that need issue-area specialists, all in-house lawyers need to be flexible when needs arise outside of their immediate wheelhouse.

  • Use Outside Counsel Strategically. Outside counsel offer critical expertise to legal departments, but all three panelists use outside counsel strategically for budgetary reasons. Recommendations for effectively working with outside counsel include: developing deep advisory-type relationships with a range of outside counsel so that you can go directly to the right person when you have a question, requesting a budget or projected cost at the outset of all matters and negotiating alternative fee arrangements.

  • Standardization vs. Customization. Our panelists all discussed the strategies they employ for managing the range of contracts within their organization, including how to educate various business-people about what is negotiable without legal’s input and what is not.

How to Build a Successful Legal Department is part of Priori’s ongoing breakfast series for in-house counsel and lawyers in private practice. Sign up here if you’d like to know about upcoming events.



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