What does the role look like - team manager

This article is one of a series looking at the role of the in-house lawyer from different perspectives. Here, we look at the role of team manager, particularly for someone new to the role, and consider some of the skills and behaviours you'll need to succeed in the job.

As your career progresses, you may find yourself gaining promotion to a management role. Your legal training is unlikely to have prepared you for this. While challenging, managing other professionals is also rewarding and can be a prerequisite to moving on to more senior roles.

Team leadership

After a few years in an in-house lawyer role, you may find yourself managing other lawyers and, perhaps, non-lawyers. You may be responsible for a budget and for drawing up and implementing operational plans for your team.

Not everyone is suited to being a team manager. You may be more comfortable as a subject matter expert or a business partner if the legal team is large enough to accommodate these roles.

To be promoted to a management role you'll need to be technically competent and career progression is generally dependent on your ability to manage people (in your team, among peers, clients and senior management), projects and money. So becoming a team manager is often essential if you want to head a department or become a general counsel.

Managing the work

As a manager, you'll have to manage workflow, as you'll be responsible for the performance of your team in relation to KPIs and other measures. You'll need good time management and process management skills to ensure your business colleagues get a prompt and accurate service and that your team meets its targets. You'll have to find the balance between being a lawyer yourself (which dwindles as a "hands on task" to almost nothing for senior people in large teams who manage the delivery of law rather than doing it), managing workflow and managing your team, both in relation to their technical queries and in relation to career development and other personal issues. And you'll want to ensure that your team has an identity, demonstrates value and has a strong collaborative ethos within itself, within the wider legal function and with the business as a whole. It’s a team game.

Managing people

For many first-time legal managers, the prospect of managing other professionals is daunting. It will take up more time than you probably envisage. You will need to re-prioritise your work accordingly - as you may well need up to 10% of your core working time per direct report each week - more if they are a new starter, doing something challenging, have a large team under them or are having problems.

Here are some of the inter-personal skills and qualities you can adopt and develop to help you:

  • Self-confidence. You may be managing lawyers who are more experienced than you. Remember, you got the role because the General Counsel and perhaps others believe in you. Self-doubt is normal but don’t let it undermine your obvious qualities;
  • Keeping it simple. It's tempting to change things quickly and radically. However, remember that people dislike rapid change, so, unless required, introduce changes systematically and be persistent but patient as most things will take a lot longer than you would like. By talking about them and bringing supporters on board to share in designing and delivering the change, you’ll make colleagues feel more positive about your changes when they take effect;
  • Communication. In a busy environment, your team won’t know as much as you about what’s happening in your department or the wider organisation. Find time to fill people in. It’s also important to communicate the 'routine' as well as the spectacular and to take time regularly to note progress and celebrate success;
  • Open door. Your personal success depends on your team’s success, so be available to them for technical and personal issues. Manage your diary so your team feel you have time for them;
  • Respect. Naturally, you’ll want to be liked. It’s more important to be respected. Achieve this by setting high standards for yourself and your team in terms of promptness, clarity and civility, especially when under pressure;
  • Mentoring and networking. Get the support you need from your own manager and your network. Share your experiences and concerns with others. If your organisation has a mentoring or coaching programme, sign up; and
  • Managing upwards. Planning ahead and negotiating time-frames and outcomes are important functions of management. You also need to manage upwards to meet your line manager’s expectations, give them what they need and avoid springing unwelcome surprises.
  • Remain current enough on the relevant law and the businesses activities and plans so that you can spot gaps and errors, help people to grow and develop, spot when people are struggling or playing games, add value in your own right and ....accrue well earned respect as a result which will make all part of your role much easier and more satisfying!

Conclusion

As a team leader you'll need to manage the work of your team and meet 'client' expectations. You'll also need to manage the people in your team. People are rarely predictable and you'll have to learn and develop new skills to cope. If you can make a success of team manager, this could be a great stepping stone to a wider leadership role.