InView Champion Alex Petrie is reframing the narrative of in-house lawyers. As Senior Legal Counsel at James Hardie. Petrie believes lawyers can get a bad rap, “while often accused of being risk-averse, I think lawyers are pretty risk-tolerant.” When your very job is to identify, analyze and mitigate risks you become skilled at establishing the most efficient way for a business to move forwards in a risk-tolerant fashion.
Changing this perspective requires better integration of legal teams into the business. Petrie noted that demand generally outstrips supply, creating backlogs of legal requests and lawyers who are rushed in actioning them. The business can free up the legal team’s capacity by implementing technology that creates more efficiency and redirecting work to standardized resources (templates, self-serve sites) or also in outsourcing work.
Giving the legal team capacity means that they can have more human interactions with the business. In-house counsel can take the time to demonstrate how they aren’t operating as the department of no, but simply finding solutions that are legally safe and commercially viable.
Ultimately, the legal team wants to be a trusted guide and confidant to their business, both protecting and enabling business value. Doing this requires identifying risks, then eliminating, substituting, isolating, or controlling them. Some call this “putting out fires before they begin.”
We now know that giving lawyers more capacity creates more effective corporate firefighters, but how can individuals help with this process? “Balancing communication and information” is Petrie’s advice. As in-house counsel, you can be inundated with meetings, letters, documents and take on too much information without prioritizing which matters are most important.
Petrie says “the key is being involved at a very high level at a very early stage in business conversations/projects/ideas and then being able to identify if there are any potential legal workstreams.” He likens this to the way a funnel-web spider creates trip lines in its web. You want to create direct lines of communication that will “vibrate” when legal investigation is required.
In saying this, Petrie does note the importance of having your finger on the pulse of the business. Sharing this knowledge within the legal team helps in-house counsel to better understand the business, to identify risk, avoid repeating past mistakes or near misses, and apply best practice which has been successfully applied elsewhere previously. As Petrie said, it is a balancing act of communication and information.
So, next time someone describes lawyers as risk-averse, remind them, we are simply risk-tolerant.