Honest confessions of an in-house counsel

Pradnya Desh
Pradnya Desh

This month, through my Women in Modern Law roundtable series, I convened a group of women from around the country who work in corporate legal departments. My goal is to build a community – a space where we, as female in-house legal professionals, can share experiences, ideas, solutions and challenges. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own work that we can really benefit from hearing from others doing the same thing in a different place.

The group included women working for large companies, small organizations and government entities. The conversation was easy and far-reaching. Even though I’m the CEO of a legal tech firm, the goal wasn’t to sell our product. Instead, it was to learn from each other so that we can all do our jobs better and help our own institutions thrive.

Here are a few take-aways from this virtual event that I host monthly:

1. Although the pandemic was hard, many of the participants found that it allowed them to achieve a better work-life balance. It also focused attention away from simple productivity, and instead shined a light on the value of personal relationships and strategic thinking. One participant worried about what is called “quiet quitting,” where workers get in, get it done and get out. They ignore the effort it takes to develop relationships; they stop trying to improve themselves or win the next promotion. This participant believes this movement will force employers to realize that they need to more appropriately value their corporate lawyers for their strategic thinking and the benefits they bring rather than only focusing on how many forms, contracts and documents they can complete. Employers that realize this will retain talent. And lawyers working in this environment will see their leadership skills, intelligence and value appreciated.

2. Lawyers involved in legal operations have real value – and it’s important for the rest of the organization to recognize their worth. It’s easier to see the value of legal operations when people are working together in the same space.

3. If you work in legal operations, don’t be afraid to eavesdrop. Yes, eavesdrop. When you hear employees talking about something that you feel should be run by the legal department, speak up. Introduce yourself as the legal operations expert and explain how you can help the employee avoid future problems by coming to you and your department in advance, before problems occur. Additionally, ask HR for time during the onboarding process or at an all-hands meeting to introduce yourself and the role of legal operations so that every employee understands from their first day on the job the importance of the legal operations department.

4. Managing the amount of time worked – and expectations of how much time one should work – is important. Just because we’re living in a 24x7 connected world doesn’t mean we should be expected to work – or be on call - 24x7. Delegate duties and explain that you don’t need to be involved in every conversation or every decision. Have the conversation around when legal is really needed and how. When you’re going on vacation, leave your laptop and your phone at home. If it’s a staycation, lock them up to avoid being called to them.

5. Appreciate the benefits of collaborating on documents in a group setting. This could be in virtual meetings or in person. One participant explained how editing documents on a shared screen saves her and her organization time and frustration.

6. Use technology to save time and money and make your work as a corporate lawyer more joyful. Make sure to choose the right platform to achieve your specific goals. For example, some legal artificial intelligence (AI) software can enforce legal guardrails in contracts and notify in-house counsel before problems occur. Some of the same technology can also allow collaboration across departments.