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How to manage regional legal teams

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Articles

6 months ago

Across all the markets that LOD operates, we’ve seen a steady rise of in-house legal leaders who are responsible for multiple countries. The rise of regional legal leaders can broadly be attributed to large, fast-expanding or merging companies looking to centralise their legal function. Being in charge of legal teams across multiple jurisdictions and cultures brings a whole set of different challenges that typically aren’t taught at law school or learned at law firms.

We’ve been thinking about how in-house legal leaders can best manage these challenges. To that end, we spoke with several General Counsels, Heads of Legal and Regional Legal Directors from across Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. We gathered their key advice and married this with LOD’s insights as an organisation that works with over 1000 in-house lawyers around the world.

(1) Zone offence

It’s a basic point, but it was the most common piece of advice: don’t forget time zones and national holidays. This can be a real challenge when you’re managing a wide spread of time zones and occasionally concessions will need to be made. The main advice here was to avoid inserting regular meetings into your team’s diary that are super early or super late. Sometimes, circumstance will dictate an unfriendly meeting time and this can’t be avoided – the key is to reduce that to an absolute minimum. Video recording and other asynchronous tools and techniques can assist here as well.

Practical management of these differences can be handled via your calendar and ensuring your team has all relevant national holidays entered. This can be done simply by using a Shared Calendar. In Outlook, you can also add multiple time zones into your calendar view to help with meeting scheduling. Alternatively, you can use websites like World Clock Meeting Planner.

(2) Teamwork is a verb

It’s critical that you bring your people together. Some regional legal leaders will have sole counsels in charge of countries and you need to make them feel part of a real team – otherwise it can be a lonely experience and they can feel unsupported. Without the natural serendipity that arises from co-located work, you need to arrange meetings not only for specific projects and matters but also for more general collaboration and learnings. One Head of Legal advised: “Make your meetings fun! Use break-out sessions generously. Mix and match lawyers from different countries. Be deliberate about it.”

Another way to strengthen your team is to introduce cross-jurisdictional interest groups which deal with common matters of law or ways of working. Some organisations might refer to these groups as ‘Centres of Excellence’ particularly when one jurisdiction will take the lead on managing a specific issue which impacts each market, for example, data protection or competition law. These groups empower cross-pollination of ideas and foster a greater sense of belonging.

(3) Hire slow, fire fast

This maxim is even more salient in regional teams than national ones. Hiring the right person for the role is critical to high-performing legal teams. Involving multiple people in the recruitment process can help guard against bad hires. HR can perform the initial screening and then engaging your boss, a peer and a general manager from the business side will really help – multiple eyes tend to identify potentially bad hires better.

One regional Legal Director told us that they follow the Netflix approach: “Don’t tolerate brilliant jerks”. Another Head of Legal cautioned: “Weed out team anomalies expediently. Where a team member is not acting as a team member or is not buying into the culture and vision, or worse, is being toxic, it’s time to part ways. Maintaining cultural hygiene of the team is of paramount importance.”

As you shouldn’t rush the appointment of a local hire, a number of regional legal directors utilise interim lawyers as a stopgap measure. This should give you the space required to do the vetting and due diligence on your new hire in a more thorough manner.

(4) Sense & sensitivities

Cultural differences are very real. In a global workforce, we celebrate this diversity and the helpful insight that it can bring. However, you can’t just “be aware” of the various cultures in your team, you need to be trained on how to address (and leverage) them. This isn’t fluffy stuff, it’s real differences that need to be properly managed. Some GCs found the book Culture Map by Erin Myers helpful (link below). Additionally, different cultures have a markedly different style of negotiation and while this is more evidently important for counterparties, it can also be relevant to your team members. There is a helpful chart of 25 different negotiation styles in the Further Reading section below.

One area to take particular care and attention to is feedback. This is an area fraught with cultural divergences and it can be easy for the feedback to be taken the wrong way. Most of the GCs recommended formal training, either arranged with a third-party or facilitated by your HR team.

(5) Induction

Once you make the hire, you need to invest time upfront in their induction. You can’t afford to be too busy here, as this is a well-documented example of a ‘stitch in time saves nine’. By front-loading your energy to ensure your new in-house lawyers have the resources and support they need, you can avoid confusion and pain down the line. Inductions need to empower your new joiners to quickly understand the role, the objectives of their immediate team and the wider organisational aims. By mapping out these points, your team members will feel a great sense of purpose and a more accurate understanding of their roles and responsibilities. A practical tip here is to ensure you ask for feedback after a short period, this will not only help with making your new hire feel listened to but also help iterate and improve your induction process.

(6) Trust, not micromanagement

You must avoid the temptation to have direct supervision on all legal matters. It’s not possible to be involved in each matter in each jurisdiction. You need to keep a high-level overview and know when you need to dive into the detail on particular issues. This is where you need to trust your team to know when to escalate matters and when to resolve themselves. If you can’t trust them, the system will falter under the weight of micromanagement and your speed of delivery to the business will dramatically decrease.

(7) Find the time

You need to find the time in your diary to meet with your reports regularly. This should be as sacrosanct as possible. These regular touchpoints will help bubble up the key issues and assist you in more proactively identifying and managing emerging problems for the business. These meetings will also help build the trust which is so essential to the performance of your team. You might also consider adding in more occasional meetings with your non-direct reports to get a wider view of what’s on the team’s collective plate and ensure things are working the way you think they are. Think of it as both a sense-check on the team operations but also a way of connecting and supporting your team at every level.

Conclusion

The management of in-house legal teams is never an easy task. Adding in multiple jurisdictions and cultures only adds further complexity. Hopefully, these tips can assist with navigating these challenges. If you would like to discuss any of these matters further, please don’t hesitate to reach out to LOD via lodinfo@lodlaw.com.


Further reading