How can you foster initiative throughout the department?
To foster initiative among attorneys, legal team leaders
must ensure that each attorney:
■ ■ Is and feels empowered to take initiative on behalf of
the company within his or her area of expertise.
■ ■ Feels comfortable that his or her point of view will
be valued and respected within the organization.
■ ■ Has the requisite knowledge to form a thoughtful
point of view and provide practical solution-orient-ed advice to clients.
Empowering Attorneys. Legal department leaders
should openly and actively communicate to show each
attorney within the department, and to all department
attorneys as a group, that they are empowered to take
initiative and encouraged to serve as leaders within
the organization (i.e., to become a “trusted advisor”).
Assuming you have recruited and retained attorneys with
the appropriate skill sets, you must give attorneys clear lines of
authority and entrust them to engage directly with their peers in
other areas of organization. Attorneys should be encouraged to
consider themselves partners with their peers, both within the
legal department and other areas of the organization.
As a law department leader, you should communicate leadership expectations to attorneys and encourage them to have
a sense of ownership and vested interest in positive outcomes
for the organization. By communicating these expectations and
empowering your attorneys to work directly with their peers
within the organization, you will likely increase the profile of
each attorney within the organization. This, in turn, increases
the likelihood that the attorneys’ skills and achievements will be
valued and recognized for advancement and reduce the potential negative effects of bias on the same.
Promoting Respected Points of View. To exercise initiative
and serve as an empowered trusted advisor, it is important that
each attorney’s viewpoint be valued and respected by his or her
peers both within the legal department and the organization. To
garner such respect among peers, it is important that each law-
yer be encouraged by legal department leaders to move beyond
traditional concepts of “lawyering” and seek to add value to the
company as business partners rather than gatekeepers. Each
attorney should be encouraged to act as a trusted advisor rather
than a “legal oracle.”
To do so, each attorney should be expected to provide risk-
based solutions and alternatives to the legal and business issues
rather than recitations
of applicable law. Legal
department leaders must
ensure that their attorneys are
poised to provide practical guidance and alternatives for navigat-
ing through legal challenges and accomplishing company goals
rather than simply telling company managers whether proposed
actions are permitted under law.
Each attorney must also be trained to understand that being
treated as a peer and a trusted advisor is a two-way street. To be
perceived and treated as a peer of other leaders, each counsel
must gain the trust of other leaders by treating them as peers and
understanding and valuing their responsibilities and contributions. To further this goal, law department leaders should,
among other things, encourage each attorney to:
■ ■ Frame the Issues. Help lead the conversation by asking questions or suggesting approaches that facilitate effective discussion and debate.
■ ■ Seek to be a Business Partner. Constructively critique, guide
and improve important business decisions (not just note problems from a narrow legal perspective).
■ ■ Offer Solutions. Continually seek to provide practical alternative ways forward that reflect creativity, engagement and
Legal department leaders must find a way to ensure
that all lawyers consistently take initiative on behalf of
the company when opportunities arise.