Webinar report: A lawyer at the table - being influential in your organisation
‘Which person could ruin your day if they weren’t engaged?’
Anthony Inglese (webinar leader) and Paul Bentall (Q&A moderator) were joined by two General Counsel, who had much to share on the subject of winning the confidence of colleagues across their organisations.
Our 2022 Legal Leaders webinar series in conjunction with Thomson Reuters kicked off in late February with some amazing insights into the art of persuasion and influence.
Jenny Block has been General Counsel at Ofwat since September 2016. Jenny has over 30 years' experience as a specialist in competition law and economic regulation and has worked both in private practice and the public sector. She joined Ofwat from the City firm, Pinsent Masons. Jenny trained with Simmons & Simmons where she was a partner for 10 years before joining Postcomm as its legal director in 2010. Jenny has also held roles as a legal advisor with the UK Competition Commission (now part of the CMA).
Chris Fowler is General Counsel Technology at BT Group plc and a director of BT’s joint venture, MBNL Limited, which builds and manages mobile infrastructure across the UK. Previously, Chris was the COO for BT Legal and before that General Counsel for BT Commercial. Here, he was responsible for setting BT’s trading policies and managing the commercial lawyers across BT’s UK enterprise trading divisions. Before joining BT Chris worked in the legal departments of Experian and Volkswagen Audi Group. He was called to the Bar by Lincolns Inn.
Why be influential?In any senior role, it’s almost impossible to get things done without bringing people round to your way of thinking. This is true whether you’re discussing major decisions, delegating tasks or selling ideas to internal and external stakeholders. For in-house lawyers, having influence is especially important if colleagues are contemplating activities that could be damaging, ethically dubious or even illegal.
Influence is also a valuable tool when, as your career progresses, you start to build your team and legal function. You’ll have ideas as to what you need from your organisation yet will have to compete with other department heads for scarce resources.
Winning your colleague’s esteemThe starting point in the quest to be influential is to be good at what you do. That sounds straightforward but the tricky part is to exude competence in the eyes of colleagues who don’t fully understand your job description. And remember, there may be times when you must deliver difficult or unwelcome messages. Walk towards these types of conversation rather than running away from them. This not only helps you achieve the outcome you want – it can also deepen the level of influence you enjoy.
It can be hard, but times like these are often the reason your organisation needs a legal department in the first place.
If you lead a legal team, helping every member thrive also enhances your influence across the organisation. You may not have the same subject matter expertise as a specialist lawyer in your team, but as an influential leader, you can help them manage their dealings with internal clients.
Adding value as a cost centreAcross many organisations, legal is seen as a cost centre. However, we know that as lawyers and analytical thinkers, we can add real value. The way to achieve this is to understand our organisation’s overall strategy, then work out how we can contribute to it. This also means looking beyond the legal technicalities of any piece of work we’re given and assessing how it contributes to the wider goals. Taking this approach helps to advance legal from a mere brief taker to a strategic (and therefore influential) partner.
It helps if you can embed yourself as early as possible in policy, strategy or project teams in your organisation to learn the what, the why and the how of its business activities.
Being a great communicator
Great communication skills are a must for anyone seeking to be influential – and in-house lawyers are no exception. More often than not, when things go wrong it’s not because of the legal advice – it’s because communication breaks down. With this mind, Jenny and Chris had these five top tips for in-house lawyers:
- Ensure everyone in a conversation has a common understanding of what’s under discussion – the law is complex, especially for non-legally trained people. Remember that in most cases, the stakeholders you’re advising won’t have the same grasp of the detail as you have;
- Legal advice must have a context to be effective – unless colleagues can relate the guidance you’re giving them directly to their own goals, they’re unlikely to act on it;
- Never send an email late at night – by all means, draft it, but sleep on it before hitting send;
- Adjust your communication style to different personalities - different people see you in different capacities. To some, you’re an adviser and the legal expert. To others you’re a fellow team member or perhaps the boss. They’ll all have expectations about you around these relationships and it helps when the way you communicate is consistent with those expectations; and
- Check in often with colleagues and team members – even if it’s just to see how they are and ask after their families. This helps to build and consolidate that vital human connection with others.
If you missed this session you can watch the recording here.
Next up in the Legal Leaders series is Strategies for progressing your legal career on 18 May at 2.00pm. Find out more and register your interest today.