WHAT MAKES A LAWYER BUSINESS (UN)FRIENDLY Part 9: ‘X’ Factor in Corporate Lawyers

This is the concluding part of this series and this has to talk about what I regard as the ‘X’ factor in corporate lawyers. I am going to talk about two crucial qualities that pave the path to accelerated growth, unleash great opportunities for self-development and are instrumental in developing talent for leadership roles. These two qualities are taking initiatives and self-PR.

  1. Taking Initiatives

Initiatives resonate with people at work place more than anything else. The recall vale of an initiative is the maximum amongst all skills that are talked about in corporate world. The dictionary meanings aptly describe an ‘initiative’ as a noun: (a) the ability to initiate things independently; (b) the opportunity to act or take charge before others do. I believe taking initiatives is more than just a quality. It is an inherent ability of a person which is deep rooted in her disposition to take risks for capitalizing opportunities. The approach towards life, be it personal or professional, is defined by the enabling thinking process of such persons and one of the ways we see them succeeding is through their initiatives.

For an in-house lawyer, initiatives can have different connotations. Of course there are quite a few ancillary qualities that form part of the process of “taking an initiative”, some of which I have already talked about in part 6 of this series in varied details, like speak up your views, share ideas, ownership of work and be forthcoming. However, these are not initiatives per se but if an in-house lawyer demonstrates these qualities I believe his chances of possessing this quality of taking initiatives are higher. I say this because initiatives are based on ideas and ideas occur when a mind is inquisitive about how legal role impacts, gels and influences the other roles in a company. I am not talking about initiatives involving novel ideas for new businesses or generating revenue streams (while I don’t see a reason why these can’t occur to lawyers!). In a daily professional life of a corporate lawyer, initiatives that add tangible value to the company are applauded equally by business and legal departments. These initiatives can be as big as, by way of an example, developing software which simplifies legal processes, requirements and work flow, and can be as small as saving costs in a particular contract through intelligent drafting and good negotiation.

I have been a part of certain debates with friends and colleagues on the subject – can someone be ‘trained’ or ‘motivated’ for taking initiatives? There are divergent views. One view, and quite a strong one, says that taking initiatives is not something which can be imparted or someone trained for.  To take an initiative, one needs to be self-motivated, driven by sheer passion in what one does, far-sighted and a self-starter. Such category of people has a relatively bigger appetite for risk. Motivation can work once or twice for someone to take an initiative. However, we are talking here in the context of this quality which is like a second nature to a person. Can this second nature be inculcated? My view is in affirmative but it is very hard. In today’s world taking initiatives is a must do and is seen as a critical skill. The companies are designing recruitment software using AI to spot this skill, amongst others, in candidates. So it is indispensable to inculcate this skill to excel in career.

Initiatives correlate with personal growth. The learning curve in initiatives is the steepest. It is the act of taking personal responsibility for your growth and it is a clear sign of your capacity to develop as a leader.

   2. Self-PR

Companies in today’s time are increasingly than ever before (and rather aggressively!) trying to find and lure the top talent. Imagine where in a company you are not the only person holding the requisite skills but plethora of others too; imagine where the race to be in the critical talent pool of a company is brutal; imagine where your contributions to the team, business and company are not becoming apparent (and I tell you there can be many reasons for this). When it comes to the support functions like that of legal, it becomes even all the more challenging to demonstrate your tangible contributions and value additions using the skills that we have talked about in this series.

It is critical that you are positioned right in the eyes of the management. It is incumbent on the business heads, department heads and your manager to highlight your achievements, skills, contributions and value additions at the right time and using the right words. However, it is not always a fair game and you need to watch your own back! The easiest way is to do, what I call, self-PR. It has two dimensions – internal and external. Both are important: internal self-PR is typically for short-term and external PR is for long-term.

Self-PR does not mean that you have to carry placards of your achievements wherever you go within or outside the company. The simplest way is to socialize your achievements to the right people. You can do that in business review meetings that you support as a lawyer and in team meetings where you can talk about your learnings with fellow lawyers from a project handled by you and how you managed to contribute. You need to be outspoken (wisely of course!) on your achievements and contributions if you feel those are not highlighted in the right way. It is equally important to develop a rapport with business and department heads whom you support for legal work. They may not be aware of your contribution, say in a complex, strategic or high value contract. How you leveraged the negotiation can be smartly woven into an informal chat or as an anecdote, with tacit focus on your strength or contribution that influenced the negotiation.  So if you do not have the rapport with business people, your chance of having informal chats is quite dim. Remember the management is focused on doing business for the company and the words of business folks weigh the maximum on them. Another example is when you save costs in a contract or manage to negotiate certain provisions which might yield additional revenue for company in future (none of these are possible if you do not know the business and understand the industry by the way!), you can perhaps send an email highlighting such tangible value additions. Often times the difference between the growth trajectory of two equally talented corporate lawyers is the self-PR!

When it comes to the external self-PR, this happens when you actively participate in conferences, business meetings, industry forums, fraternity societies, etc. By active participation, I mean leaving a mark of your conversation and presence, and not just exchanging business cards. Especially the meetings to negotiate contracts are good opportunities to showcase your talent, knowledge and expertise. You may get acquainted to quite a few right people in the course of your current job but how you develop those acquaintances is the crux of external self-PR. If you are able to develop this skill, your self-PR can create ample future opportunities for you. Who knows the call for your next job is from the one who you met and impressed!

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