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Do Your Part: Contributing to Company Culture as Legal Counsel

Over the past couple of months, we’ve explored the importance of company culture in your in-house practice and how to identify whether a company’s culture is the right fit for you.  This month’s column wraps up my short series on culture with how in-house counsel can use your unique role within the company to promote positive aspects of your company’s culture.

Think about the leadership of your company, or the company you support.  While the C-suite executives serve as the formal leaders of the company, you likely have a series of informal leadership within the company as well.  These individuals may not hold formal leadership or managerial titles but are the people that others in the company turn to for trusted guidance and advice.  Legal counsel’s inherent role as counselor and advisor often put the in-house team as part of that informal leadership network for the company.  The in-house legal team touches nearly every aspect of the company in some way, and consistent exposure to the spectrum of company employees and teams makes in-house counsel the perfect conduit for company culture.

The first step in determining how you can contribute to positive company culture is to identify the couple key values that define the organization.  For example, my current company has three overarching values that drive our culture, primarily centered on growth, putting others first, and being wise in decision-making.  These values are instantly recognized across all employees of the company and are consistently used as a common touchstone in company decision-making.  Even in supporting companies without such an explicit set of values that drive the company culture, by studying decision-making and interactions within the company, you can identify two or three consistent values that drive the company.

Once you identify the key themes of your company culture, assess how they can be demonstrated in your everyday practice.  For my current company, understanding and interweaving our culture-derived lingo into my everyday communications not only makes my guidance more useful to my internal clients, but also implicitly demonstrates to others that I consider our company values and culture in my advice and counsel.  In addition to building in the buzzwords and phrases that reflect our values, I also strive to interact with others within our company in a way that models our culture.  For example, rather than allowing a conversation around a mistake or misunderstanding to deteriorate into finger-pointing, I would consciously steer discussions in a way that reflects a growth mindset:  let’s identify the gap in the process that allowed the mistake or misunderstanding to occur, and come up with a plan to fix the gap.  Similarly, in advising regarding a potential course of action in a dispute, I would discuss the difference between what may be legally permissible versus what is the wise course of action and invite discussion around where these two concepts may overlap or diverge in a given situation. 

While these examples may be slightly outside the purview of legal advice, I recognize that my company culture views my role as counsel as not only to provide recitation of law and application to a set of facts, but also to help guide my internal clients toward decision-making that best reflects who we are as a company.  While I do not have a C-suite title, my job inherently requires me to be an informal leader within the organization. By talking the walk, and walking the talk, I play my part in promoting our company culture. 

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