Expanding Your Value As In-House Counsel

in-house counselNow that I have been in-house counsel for almost eight years, I have an expanded view of our value. Of course, we are lawyers first and foremost — and necessarily must help our clients navigate and mitigate legal risk by understanding and helping our clients comply with the law. But from my observation, our value transcends the transactional. We are more than Siri or Alexa on the law for our clients — or, at least, I submit to you that we should be. Otherwise, why would companies want in-house counsel if they could go to any excellent firm lawyer? Here are some of my thoughts on how in-house counsel can provide particular value to their companies.

Legalese Translator

While being able to translate legalese from firm lawyers to business clients may seem like a trivial talent, I submit to you that our nonlawyer business clients would strongly disagree. I have witnessed firsthand how their eyes have glazed over during calls, at best, but at worst, I will receive a frustrated call from an exasperated client who is overwhelmed by the receipt of a very long email that looks more like a legal memo with citations and capitulation than the yes or no response they were expecting. While I don’t personally love reading long legal memos either, I find that clients deeply appreciate when you can translate the legalese into tangible choices for the business to consider. I find that the business folks also appreciate it if you have a recommendation and can explain why simply. Points if you know all the company acronyms and can leverage your company values and connect to the company culture.

Connector

Candidly, I don’t know if the experience is different if you are in-house counsel at a smaller company, so take this observation with a grain of salt, but as in-house counsel at a larger company, I find that I often act as a connector between different parts of our company — and help create synergy. As much as we do not want silos, if you work for a very large company, it’s inevitable that the right hand may not always know what the left hand is doing. But if you have a great partnership with the business, and they habitually invite you to business meetings, you will often hear opportunities in which you can create efficiencies by encouraging various parts of the business to collaborate.

Benchmarking

I didn’t realize how much companies like to “benchmark” or see what other companies are doing until becoming a corporate lawyer. No, I’m not talking about corporate espionage or trade secret type stuff. I mean the run-of-the-mill “I wonder how they’re handling [insert new law or regulation here]” stuff. For example, not all states require mandatory anti-harassment training. A benchmarking question might be “Do you know how other companies roll out their anti-harassment training — whether it goes out to everyone or just the employees in the states that require it?” If you are in-house counsel and have a network of other in-house counsel, you can provide value by helping your clients benchmark informally. (Disclaimer: please consider any antitrust implications before doing so.)

If you have been in-house for awhile, all three of these “roles” may sound very familiar. But if you are new to in-house, I encourage you to consider how you could better develop these roles to grow your impact and influence at your company. And if you are not in-house counsel but are considering making the move and feel like these tasks are banal, you may want to reconsider.


Meyling Mey Ly OrtizMeyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.

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