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Actualizado: 21 ago 2023

Regional Counsel, Visa

 

The importance of communication in teamwork and conflict resolution.

Over the last years, the importance of a general counsel or in-house counsel has come significantly forward; not only in the legal community but also in the business market. In the past, local and global companies pioneering the commercial markets did not always see the legal function as a prominent one but on the contrary, as its name stands, a support function that is nice to have.


But in time and with the legal accumen and awareness uprising due to many prominent cases all around the world as well as the transition of leadership teams in a better foresight and multifaceted mindsets, it’s been well perceived that legal functions are rather a must have and “thank god- we have” functions.


The legal functions differ in companies depending on their corporate structures and organization charts and in particular, the legal management structure. For global companies, the legal function can be set up as hub teams in collaboration and in supervision with regional and local legal managements or hub teams and regional teams working independently and both being supervised by the global teams. The legal function in a region or a cluster can consist of a team or a single counsel working in tandem with the hub teams. Some legal management structures can be more centralized where there is scrutiny to follow certain routes in the decision making, reporting and approval lines whilst there are some other legal management structures being more decentralized and having entire or partial independence on decision making, reporting and approvals. For local companies, it is local and centralized where there are either separate teams subject to a main legal team or like some global ones, just one in-house counsel working with external counsels.


With this complexity and usually matrix like configuration, an in-house counsel or a legal manager always needs to be alert, practical, realistic and solution oriented. It resembles to an on site activity because the legal manager is frequently on the live show with his/her stakeholders, in other words, his/her business partners. This being the case, being a good listener and conveying a message of understanding the matter to the stakeholders in the first place plays a key role.


There is a customary perception for the legal function to be a barrier, a delayer or an unnecessary procedure that needs to be completed. On the contrary, the legal function is a gate keeper and a reliable internal ally, keeping the business safe in a variety of aspects. Happily, this perception has regressed recently thanks to the increasing legal awareness as well as the attitude of legal managers and teams. At this exact point, not only the hard skills, but also the soft skills of legal managers emerge as a key.


In my opinion, the distinguishable soft skills in a legal manager are (as mentioned earlier above) being a good listener, conveying an understanding message as a team member – so that the business team will not feel any need to defend or by-pass the legal review- asking the right questions and not in a judgy mood and giving precise & clear messages including when passing over the legal advice.


Below is a closer look to each of those.


Being a good listener and conveying an understanding message: It can sometimes be quite hectic and interruptive to receive an avalance of emails followed by calls, resulting into pressure and a need to prioritize matters in a short period of time. We all are human beings, we may show emotions, get tired and even tempered. Especially under time and business pressure, these signs can come out more easily and unexpectedly. When things get complicated, all parties can act in an agitated way and we may hear or say things which probably we never meant. To avoid this as much as possible, listening the stakeholders and team members all ears and calmly and conveying the message that they are listened and understood after ensuring that all aspects are duly delivered to the legal function would be of great help. It should be aimed at all times to show that the legal function is not an “enemy” but an ally and a team member.


Asking the right questions not in a judgy mood: This is very important to understand what exactly the business partner needs from the legal manager and the legal function. Determining the right questions for the matter and formulizing it to the business in a clear and understandable way (non-legal friendly) would relax the business team and increase their level of collaboration. Also, not appearing in a judgy mood while building the communication with the business partner is quite crucial no matter how hard it can sometimes be, especially in moments of crisis or heavy pressure. Otherwise, the business partner may take defense or become very sensitive which brings the conversation to a dead end and tense the relationships. This could be seen as a “we are on the same ship” message and there is a common purpose which is to get things done, sorted out and protect the company’s interests.


Giving precise and clear messages: Message transmission between legal and business functions can sometimes deviate because of i- unclarity and ii- miscommunication. The legal manager does not have to use a pure legal language when delivering the messages to the business teams. The punchline here is to convey the right legal message with precise articulation and formulation so that every part of it is clear and delivered. The legal advice expected from the legal function cannot always be in a way the business wants to hear and take in. That is why the less likeable legal advice are usually pushed back or received with a misinterpretation tendency. This is a critical place where the legal manager needs to have a solid and sound stance to deliver it in the correct way, in a kind manner and to cast away any possible misinterpretations. The best way to secure this would be to maintain a direct, to the point and precise communication along with providing a clear reasoning, with references, examples and/or providing chances of success to the extent possible and depending on the specifics of the matter. When doing that, designing new or alternative ideas or solutions for the business which are legally acceptable or more acceptable and less risky could be of great help to show association with the business colleagues.


In the end, I think the key soft skill which encompasses all those above is effective, open and timely communication. This skillset is almost of same weight with the professional knowledge and capacity.


I would like to close with a humorous call to action sentence which in fact is all true: Love your lawyer so that they are always there for you.

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