Working as an in-house counsel isn't always riveting or, despite unfounded rumors, particularly relaxing. It’s a job. And as with any job it has its peaks and troughs. In-house counsel is a mix of highs and lows, the buzz of providing value to the business pitted against more monotonous and mundane tasks.
When the lows start to outweigh the highs it’s all too easy for jadedness to creep in and before you know it that dream job you coveted seems a chore and rather boring. Fun fact: everyone gets bored, it’s one of life’s realities. Instead of looking to switch jobs every time the going gets tough, how about exploring ways to keep the passion alive in your existing role?
InView community members Pier Luigi Lucatuorto, General Counsel of Modula S.p.A, and Electra Japonas, CEO and founder of The Law Boutique and co-founder of oneNDA, discuss how they manage the relationship with their jobs in both good and tough times.
Let's start with the root cause of jadedness. Where does it come from? "It’s a question I have asked myself more than once, and I think I’ve found the answer,” says Lucatuorto. “It’s to do with the tendency of legal counsels to get too involved and internalize the negativity of their most challenging issues.”
Problems are a fact of life for lawyers. Being a professional fix-it person is what their job is all about. In-house counsel are currently facing the same issues as most other professions the world over, battling global markets rattled by a pandemic, inflation, supply shortages, political flare-ups and war. Fast forward to future generations, and while the issues of the day might differ, the challenges will remain the same, be they societal, environmental or legal.
Lucatuorto says while the entire suite of business units is impacted in diverse ways by external problems, they turn to Legal to save the day. "In doing so, they pour their stress onto the legal function, who soak up that stress like a sponge.” Cue jadedness. Japonas adds, “When deadlines are tight, stakeholders demanding and third parties difficult, things can get tough."
What do Lucatuorto and Japonas do to reduce negativity? Both agree that when it comes to making quick logistical changes, setting boundaries is the answer. "Being clear with people on when you're able to deliver things instead of just saying yes and not setting boundaries is what creates issues," says Japonas, adding that time and relationship management can cause either great stress or happiness in the workplace.
She encourages counsel to invest in their relationships. "Building relationships is the most important thing anyone can do in their role. It helps you cope with times where you need a fellow human, but it also allows you to be seen as human." In-house counsel who don't value connection with their colleagues run the risk of being misunderstood and regarded as unfeeling, and are therefore treated transactionally.
Lucatuorto has created what he terms a “personal recipe” to combat jadedness, committing to making improvements in his personal life to stimulate creativity and to help him be inspired in his work. "I notice that my personal creativity stimulates my professional creativity. As I believe the context of internal legal advice should be creative by itself, I let myself to be influenced by other stimuli. This creative mindset pushes me to pick up new ideas and provide legal services with due creativity," he says.
It's about trial and error, figuring out what makes you tick outside of work and what provides you with inspiration you can apply to the law. For Lucatuorto, it means playing the piano and reading. For others it might involve activities such as writing, visual arts or cooking. Ultimately, it’s about how flexing our creative muscles will reap wonders in the workplace.
Lucatuorto's personal recipe draws on the Kaizen Method, which is about creating continuous improvement based on the principle that small positive change produces significant improvement. He also applies it to the legal function itself, seeking constantly to improve ways of working.
"I think lawyers need to be receptive to changes and willing to embrace innovative approaches,” he says. “There is always room for improvement.”
Perception is also crucial. Lucatuorto looks at things through the frame of "seeing yourself not only as a lawyer dealing with a contract, but rather as a key business partner who has a role to play in shaping the face of the company".
Tech is an obvious helping hand when it comes to working smarter rather than harder. In Japonas’ words, it can "streamline, consolidate and automate". Lucatuorto also points out that "entrusting a software with the management of simple and repetitive tasks (the automation of deadlines and standardization of contracts) allows me to focus my energy on the burning issues".
Lucatuorto and Japonas agree it’s worth putting effort into changing how, as a lawyer, you’re perceived by colleagues. "Lawyers are apparently the least trusted professionals in the world," says Japonas, which she attributes to their supposed narrow viewpoint and traditional tone. Meanwhile, Lucatuorto believes lawyers are often close to burnout and come across as stressed, tense and nervous.
To change such negative perception, Japonas makes sure she communicates in plain (non-lawyer) English and takes the time to understand people's needs. Lucatuorto’s strategy harks back to relationships, he believes by working on professional social connections people will come to see lawyers as human.
He also says that to earn respect, your own house must be in order. "I suggest that the change should take place starting from inside the legal department, which should already reflect the best elements of a strong team: collaboration, empathy, fun environment and the desire to share knowledge and skills."
Ultimately, the same goes for being jaded. Creating the best internal processes possible and continually aiming to innovate how you do things will, hopefully, chip away any feelings of stagnation or frustration.