If you were to ask your internal business clients to rate you on a scale of one to five stars, how many stars would you get? Our clients are the internal business teams, like Marketing, IT, Product Planning, or Supply Chain. The job of in-house counsel is to provide great legal advice (hard skills) as well as great customer service (soft skills). I’ve heard some internal clients say that in-house counsel “take too long to get back to me,” “over complicate things,” or “say no too often.” However, I have never heard an internal client say, “but they were really smart so that made up for their complete lack of customer service.” Internal business clients measure the success of in-house counsel first by our soft skills, and then by our hard skills.
In the eyes of your internal business clients, how can you be a five-star in-house counsel?
1. Respond Quickly
The business regularly relies on in-house counsel to help drive important business decisions. Important business decisions are being made all the time, which means your internal clients want to be able to access you all the time. When working remotely, access is largely virtual. In-house counsel should be available online (e.g. through chat or email), answer your phone for impromptu calls, and respond quickly to emails and inquiries. If you’re not ready to provide a substantive response, send a quick acknowledgment of receipt and provide an estimated turnaround time. My favorite go-to quickie is, “Got it! Let me review and I’ll get back to you shortly.”
2. Communicate with Empathy
In the pandemic era, internal business clients might be a little more distracted in meetings than usual, asking the same question multiple times, or missing an email or two. After all, we are all human and there is only so much chaos we can deal with at once. At a time when we are all experiencing the personal struggle of life during a pandemic, it is not the right time to roll our eyes at our clients or stonewall them for innocent mistakes or missteps. In-house counsel should empathize with our clients and find new ways to better serve them. For example, instead of stonewalling, send friendly reminders about the benefits of following certain procedures. Instead of rolling your eyes and saying, “Per my last email,” offer to help walk them through the steps again or point them in the right direction. Remember that your internal business clients are relying on you for guidance, for counsel. A little empathy can go a long way.
3. Write Shorter Emails
The business regularly relies on in-house counsel to help drive important business decisions. That means your clients want to be able to access you on a regular basis. When working remotely, this means being available online e.g. through chat or email), answering your phone for impromptu calls, and responding quickly to emails and inquiries. Even if you’re not ready to provide a substantive response, send a quick acknowledgment of receipt and provide an estimated turnaround time. My favorite go-to quickie is, “Got it! Let me review and I’ll get back to you shortly.”
4. Be More Tech Savvy
According to a recent poll conducted by the Association of Corporate Counsel, 46.5% of in-house counsel will permanently convert to a remote work setup. As in-house counsel, we are usually the meeting organizer or the presenter. We initiate calls, ask questions, and share our screens. We rarely, if ever, a silent bystander. Therefore, we need to stop making excuses for our inability to properly setup a Zoom call or our poor internet connection at home. Saying, “This is why I’m an attorney and not a software engineer,” isn’t funny anymore. If you keep running into technical issues, take a few minutes out of your day to connect with your IT representative to fix broken links, resolve connection issues, create shortcuts, navigate new apps, and develop reliable backup plans for common issues. For example, I recently learned that if your home internet network is spotty during an important virtual call, you can hot spot off a mobile phone for a stronger network.
5. Influence Through Training
Really great in-house counsel can skillfully educate and influence their internal business clients to improve legal and process compliance. Trainings that are interactive and thoughtful result in the highest engagement and memory retention. It might not be as simple as it used to be to organize an engaging training session, so we need to get creative. Make a video of yourself presenting one of your favorite trainings. Host a virtual happy hour with an interactive quiz (and prizes). Send out anonymous surveys to figure out what employees want to learn about. Start a chat group that employees can join just to ask questions about legal processes and policies.