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Halil Kardicali

Actualizado: 21 ago 2023

Senior Legal Counsel, 3M


Importance of Soft Skills as an In-house Lawyer.

The evolution of the in-house lawyer is a fascinating story. Especially after the 1970’s companies realized the importance of having an in-house legal department to strengthen their core and do business in a compliant manner. With time in-house legal teams gradually expanded their influence within their respective corporations.

The in-house lawyers who only commented on the legality of an issue, transformed into influential leaders who guide their boards/business teams not only to do what is legal but also to do what is right. As in-house legal departments became more prominent in-house lawyers started holding a dual role; guarding the company from harm, but also partnering with their colleagues to make sure their corporation thrives.

Armed with the law, shielded by the code of conduct surely the in-house lawyer does not need anything else to be successful right? Well, let’s say not always... As the dual role of the in-house lawyer became more defined, how the service is delivered has become as important as the what. This is where a strong commandment of soft skills becomes important for the in-house lawyer. Soft skills is a term that is a very large umbrella, many different skills can be nominated under it with all good reasons. I will focus on only 4 of them, which I believe enables the inhouse lawyer to function more efficiently and which could bring leverage for advancing its career.

Active listening and asking powerful questions

I cannot count the number of times that I entered a business meeting with colleagues where they came guns blazing and thought they were asking for something, say termination of an agreement, and we left the same meeting with a completely different initiative, say an amendment to our marketing requirements, which was not only more compliant but also a better tool to achieve their goal.

When requested to do something, do not shy away from asking question to understand the real need in front of you. Note that sometimes apart from not knowing the law or the code of conduct, feelings and long-standing frustrations may also be in play. Asking “Why are we willing to do this?”, “What are you aiming to achieve?”, “Is there history here?” goes a long way for demystifying the issue and proposing an adequate way forward.

Time Management

One of the thrills of being an inhouse lawyer is that you never know what will drop in your mailbox in the upcoming minutes. A distributor selling to embargo countries, an FCPA investigation, hijacking of your company trucks and a high-speed chase, are just a sampling real issues that have popped in my inbox out of the blue. As the next time-consuming crisis does not usually signal itself, it is imperative that you make it a habit of clearing your plate as quickly as you can.

When I first transitioned into in-house, I got a great piece of advice from my mentor. She had said “when something drops into your inbox and you know that you can prepare a reply in 5 minutes, just hit that ball!”. I try to abide by this principle, and it has made may life easier. Otherwise, you might find yourself buried under a hundred “5-minute tasks” that are further blocked by a lumbering behemoth of a project.

There will be other tasks that require research, concentration, and deep dive, hence more of your time. As your time is prone to die by a thousand cuts, it is your responsibility to forge an armor around your calendar as necessary. Especially in the post Covid era and remote working style, we are facing an avalanche of meeting requests. If you don’t block chunks of your calendar (and stick to it unless there is a real emergency) I can guarantee that your colleagues will conquer your agenda. Saying “No” to meeting requests that could have been a simple e-mail exchange also goes a long way.

Effective Communication

Remember that 5-minute e-mail riposte method above? That is only made possible if you are able to formulate a clear and concise response in the said 5 minutes.

A legal professional is used to having multiple answers to the same question. We usually also love to elaborate on those, the many possibilities, the why’s and the when’s; but these do not always translate into an easily digestible response.

The first tenet of effective communication is knowing your audience. Non-legal colleagues do not speak legalize and are rightfully oblivious to legal abbreviations. If you sprinkle a lot of those in your messaging, you will leave your colleagues confused and sometimes very frustrated. Cut out abbreviations and get used to using in bracket simple explanations of legal terms (when you can’t avoid them) to formulate your responses in plain language.

This is closely followed by knowing where to start and where to stop; I would really put great emphasis on the “stop” part. Long, detailed academic discussions on possibilities do not help non-legal colleagues who have to decide by taking your input. Short sentences, small paragraphs, bullet points will go a long way in making your messaging easy to digest and act upon. In the long run, it will also help you with your time management as concise messages will help you avoid follow-up explanations, e-mails and meetings.

Technological Agility

I remember being shocked when I listened to the story of a colleague who was retiring, as to how they have discussed at length whether the legal department needs a computer, or the typewriter was perfectly adequate for the company’s need (eventually they decided to get a computer). These days are long gone, and I do not think we can fathom a law department without a myriad of assistance software, servers, cloud etc. That being said a similar discussion, this time on whether we should deploy A.I. in our procedures is being made by many in-house legal teams as we speak.

Technology continues to make progress in leaps and bounds. Lawyers being creatures of habit, are not always at the forefront when it comes to adopting technological novelties. I do not know whether A.I. will leave the legal community jobless, but I am almost sure that in-house lawyers who have A.I. assisted tools will have an upper hand.

Adopting to a technological novelty is usually a front-loaded process. Understanding the capabilities and tricks of a new software may take time, but also with proper application it can bring down your review time dramatically. So when the next best technological marvel turns the corner don’t be shy take your place in the front seat.

Dawn of the meta in-house lawyer?

In-house lawyers have become much more than law connoisseurs; wise advisor, spokesperson, information hub, moral compass, keeper of corporate memory, to name a few… We also observe a trend in companies to promote their lawyers in non-legal functions. Human Resources, Compliance, Investor Relations and Government Affairs have become more common; but also to Business, Communications and even CEO positions are within reach. For in-house lawyers willing to advance in their own function and/or pursue alternative careers, mastery of soft skills will be greatly beneficial as they are universally applicable, and easily transferable to new jobs and responsibilities.


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