The Lawyer As A Valuable Business Partner: The Three C’s – Culture; Communication Skills; and Continuum

Association of Corporate Counsel, New Jersey Chapter and Princeton Legal Search Group sponsored a panel with three top in-house lawyers from New Jersey companies who served as panelists for a discussion entitled: “The Lawyer As A Valuable Business Partner: The Three C’s – Culture; Communication Skills; and Continuum.” The panel was moderated by Melissa A. Peters, Esq., Managing Director of Princeton Legal Search Group, LLC. The panelists included:

  • Mark Boyland, General Counsel & Vice President, Environmental Health & Safety, Benjamin Moore & Co.
  • Mary Elizabeth Warner, Corporate Counsel, Quick Chek Corporation
  • John de Grandpre, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Capsugel

Culture: Learn, adapt and effectuate change:
The panelists addressed the preliminary question of how one determines the culture of its company/organization, and then moved on to discuss the importance of learning that culture. Despite the varying size of each panelist’s organization and legal team, the consistent theme was that it is imperative for the in-house lawyer to learn and adapt to the culture of the organization. The panelists also spoke about the differences in various organizational cultures that can lead to “culture shock” and how to go about effectuating change in an organization’s culture. Learn the culture; adapt to it; effectuate necessary change.

Communication: The art of communicating:
This is definitely a “hot button” issue and the panelists each gave specific examples of times that they, as in-house counsel, have had to tweak and change their own communication styles to a targeted audience. They spoke honestly and humorously when talking about having to change messaging to ensure their points are clear to their colleagues and clients. Specifically, the panelists spoke about interacting with internal business clients and how, for example, their communication with the CFO may take a different form and tone than their communication with the CEO or with their own legal team. The art of communicating and ensuring that your audience hears your message.

Career As A Continuum: Assessing your progression:
The panel discussion addressed the concept of one’s career as a timeline, including when it is time to move on or up from within your current organization? The panelists recognized that it is hard, but necessary; to take the time to really do a gut check about your own career, independent from the company for which you work. It was discussed that without some level of self-reflection about one’s career, it is challenging to move forward and realize your career goals. The panelists made clear that self-reflection does not mean that you need to move on — sometimes, it tells you that you are in the right place in your career. Think about your career independently; assess your goals and how you are moving toward them.

Questions To Consider:
The panel discussion raises some reflective questions to ask yourself about how you add value to your legal department (and to your company) whether as the General Counsel or as an emerging leader:

  • Can I accurately describe my company’s culture and the culture of my legal department, and are there cultural norms/values that I want to change?
  • Am I constantly considering my audience, and making sure that what I want to communicate is being effectively received? Or am I using the same communication style with everyone I encounter?
  • Have I taken the time to really learn the business of my company and the day-to-day business challenges that arise, so that I can give pragmatic advice and add value to the company?
  • Do I feel that I am on the right track in my career and that I am moving forward and challenging myself?

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