Cyna Alderman speaking at Priori Legal's How to Build a Successful Legal Department breakfast panel in New York.
Cyna Alderman is General Counsel of the New York Daily News, overseeing four attorneys and two support staff shared with the New York Daily News’s sister company, U.S. News & World Report. As part of our ongoing breakfast series, we sat down with Cyna to discuss how she measures the success of her legal department.
Priori: When you think of legal department success, what are the most important metrics and markers for you?
Cyna: My metric of success is whether or not the legal department is being utilized by the company. Are people in the habit of coming to the legal department and including us early in conversations? I like my department to be in a position where everyone knows what’s going on in the company and is able to assist before issues arise.
When I came into the department, people were not very good at using the legal department; so getting people into the habit of using us has been both my biggest challenge and my biggest success. We don’t use specific metrics though. It’s more a matter of being in touch with what’s going on within the organization, speaking to clients, and preventing surprises.
Priori: How did you succeed in getting the legal department more involved?
Cyna: Two ways. The big-picture way was showing the staff that legal could add a lot of value to deals if they came to us. We worked to demonstrate that we’re not obstructionist, that we can facilitate success and find ways to add value to transactions. Now, employees come to us for guidance on how to improve their transactions.
On a more granular level, I implemented a system under which all executed contracts are required to have an initialed legal department stamp. I initially implemented it because, due to the proliferation of email, contracts were being constantly sent back and forth, and it was difficult to know whether the right version was being signed. This turned out to be a good system for not only version control but also for making sure the legal department was involved in transactions and had the opportunity to review all documents. When people started coming to the department for the stamp, we were guaranteed to have a chance to review everything that was getting signed.
Priori: The NY Daily News legal department is relatively small given the breadth of matters you handle. Other than the stamp system, what systems have you put in place to manage the work?
Cyna: I focus on communication and making sure I’m in touch with all department heads and understand their priorities. If I’m feeling buried by a specific department, I ask them to prioritize their projects. A list of priorities that has been discussed with stakeholders prevents priorities from changing everyday, which allows the legal department to work effectively.
We also have a monthly legal luncheon, which originally started as a check-in, but has become an event where department members do a short presentation about some interesting issue they’ve been working on that they believe should be understood more broadly. The lunches help make sure everyone in the legal department is on the same page and that we’re not duplicating work.
Priori: You started the Innovation Lab at the Daily News to spark engagement with the startup community. Can you tell us a little more about how you came up with the idea and how it relates to your role in legal?
Cyna: When you’re in an in-house legal department, you have access to a broad cross-section of information that people in different departments might not have. It puts you in a unique position to not only add value to specific deals, but to also bring in new ideas to the company. As industries like publishing experience increasing pressures, companies become more open to experimentation. It was my experience in the legal department that allowed me to have the perspective to say, “This is a massive opportunity for the company.” And because of the credibility and track record of success I’d established for myself over the years, when I suggested starting the Innovation Lab, the senior management team was open to it.
Priori: Can you tell us a little bit about your hiring process? What do you look for when expanding your team?
Cyna: I hire to bring a specific expertise into the department in order to minimize the need for outside counsel. At the same time, for a small legal department, it’s very important to hire people who are versatile, ready to jump in and learn, and aren’t entirely focused in one area. For example, we just hired a labor and employment lawyer to handle unions and any regular employment matters that come up in the Company. It was essential to find a candidate who, in addition to having a background in employment and labor law, would also be willing to jump in and help out with, for instance, a subpoena response, a contract, a cease and desist letter, or whatever else comes up.
Cyna Alderman is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and General Counsel of the New York Daily News, and Managing Director of the Daily News Innovation Lab.