Taking Stock

January 1, 2005

As the song says “There may be trouble ahead….”

But what about for in-house lawyers in 2004?

Well, while I predict plenty of “moonlight”, I suspect there may be very little on the “roses” front.

I do not think 2004 will see many CEO’s running down corridors to their legal director’s offices carrying bonuses and promotions with grateful thanks and deep-seated appreciation.

I suspect that there will be more work to do, less time to do it in and no money to spend (either on your team or to recruit). Perhaps your good lawyers are now becoming increasingly dissatisfied and may even want to leave, stifled by the lack of obvious progression or promotion; while, sadly, your less good lawyers resist giving more than a minimum contribution and seem stubbornly happy to stay.

You have probably been told to cut fees to the external lawyers but have not yet convinced your board that you actually have more risk to manage.

Now even small things seem important, so just at the time you need those external relations to be at their strongest, you cannot even offer biscuits with your meeting room coffee now that absolutely ALL discretionary spending has been cut.

Faced with this heap of grindingly depressing issues, what are your options?

  • Buy an extra line on your lottery ticket.
    Pros: It’s cheap. If you win you will solve most problems instantly. It can be repeated throughout the year.
    Cons: In your dreams.
  • Resign and leave for another job.
    Pros: This will take your mind off what troubles you. It’s good to get your c.v. sorted. New challenges tend to renew enthusiasm. A fresh start means leaving all those problems behind
    Cons: The words “frying pan and fire” spring to mind. I hate to sound like your wise old auntie but running from a problem doesn’t equip you for solving it when it happens next time…and there WILL be a next time.
  • Stay. It’s not so bad and you can make this work so much better than you might think.
    Pros: A sense of genuine achievement, real job satisfaction and a more motivated team.
    Cons: It is hard work and initially at least you may sound like you have swallowed one of those gushing self-help books from a crackpot U.S. style lifestyle guru.

So where to begin?

Well we have all heard of SMART objectives, these are obviously terribly important but as an antidote to this very sensible and worthy approach, let me propose something a little more radical.

C: Be committed, consistent and certain. Lead with energy, and then set a tone and context for change. Change is essential, sometimes uncomfortable, but always essential. There is a whole load of stuff I could write on this but space is limited. So for now, just accept the fact that you have to change things…reporting lines, the way you report, when you meet, where you meet, who you meet with, when you take lunch…Anything and everything can be changed. Changing things gets people used to things having to move on. Start changing.

R: Reward innovation. A simple “thank you” is often all that is needed. Recognise when things are done well and say so. Recognise things you don’t like and comment why and how they should be changed. Be rational about this…think it through, but try to pinpoint precisely what you want changed and say why.

A: Always articulate value. Everything you do is valuable (or should be)…Your actions save the business money and time and manages risk more expertly and sensitively. So, tell people. Let them see why you are there!

P: Plan to do this. Words change nothing and well intended reports and New Year messages will soon be forgotten. You have to DO things. Your actions will change almost everything, but you have to plan your actions. Plan to be committed, consistent and certain. Plan to recognise and reward good behaviour. Plan to recognise bad behaviour and then deal with it. Plan to articulate value, in your meetings, in your reports, frankly in all that you do.

These may well become known as CRAP objectives, but I think acronyms are overrated…

I know you will accept this comment the way it is intended, but I hope this New Year is for you simply full of CRAP things.

Clearly it will be tough but it doesn’t have to be bad.

As the song says, “While there may be trouble ahead, let’s face the music and dance”!

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