There’s so much that we can all learn from the iconic Hank Aaron – who sadly passed away last month at the age of 86. When I discovered my favorite sport of baseball as a young boy, Hank Aaron was one of the first baseball stars that I looked up to, I proudly collected his baseball cards (and the picture above is my 1956 baseball card of Mr. Aaron) and in my opinion he is the greatest baseball player ever.

As this month is Black History Month, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon the legacy of Hank Aaron. Since his nickname was “The Hammer,” here’s six  H-A-M-M-E-R leadership lessons that all legal and business professionals can learn from Mr. Aaron.

H = Humility: As a high school kid I remember meeting Mr. Aaron at a baseball card show at the Westchester County Center in the 1980s shortly after his Baseball Hall of Fame induction so that I could obtain his autograph. Although I only had a very brief interaction with him, he was very gracious and welcoming. Every since his passing so many people have also expressed similar stories about Mr. Aaron as he was universally humble and nice to everyone he met whether it be a “VIP,” the baseball clubhouse attendant or an ordinary fan like me.

In Corporate America it’s important for everyone to treat others with respect and decency – regardless of your title or position. This is especially important for leaders as we all need to set the proverbial “tone at the top” about embracing inclusivity in our respective workplace cultures. In my experience, the very best leaders are the ones who are highly approachable, humble, down to earth and are genuinely interested in the views of their teammates, customers and partners. If a legend like Mr. Aaron can treat a then high school sophomore like me with respect, then there’s no excuses for you not doing the same with others in the workplace – and in our personal lives.

A = Authenticity: As a baseball player Mr. Aaron was not considered as “flashy” as some of the other baseball stars of his era like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente. Nor was he as “flamboyant” as another baseball legend named Babe Ruth – the highly popular player he surpassed in 1974 as the all-time Major League Baseball home run king. Since Mr. Aaron played his entire career in the “smaller-market” cities of Milwaukee and Atlanta and he only won one World Series early in his career in 1957 (where he was the Most Valuable Player that year and led the Milwaukee Braves to a world championship with a high batting average of .393 and 11 hits, including a triple, three home runs and seven runs batter in), he did not receive the same notoriety and appreciation in the media as some of his peers. However, Mr. Aaron always remained his true and authentic self – both on and off the baseball field. As a result, he gained universal admiration from his fellow players.

It’s important for leaders in the workplace to be real and authentic so they can command the necessary respect from their teammates. The best leaders are hard-working, transparent, lead by example and avoid being fake. Transformational leaders are highly credible because they are true and legitimate just like Mr. Aaron.

M = Mentorship: Mr. Aaron had a long reputation for taking his baseball teammates under his wing, mentoring them and making them better players – and most importantly better people. One example is the current and highly successful Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker who played with Mr. Aaron as a member of the Atlanta Braves for six seasons from 1968-1974. After Mr. Aaron’s passing, Mr. Baker released the following statement about his relationship with Mr. Aaron: “Hank Aaron was the most important influence on my life, next to my Dad. He was the best person that I ever knew and the truest and most honest person that I ever knew. He taught me how to be a man and how to be a proud African-American. He taught me how important it was to give back to the community and he inspired me to become an entrepreneur. Hank impacted my life, my family and my world, both on and off the field. He was a great man.”

Always be a “Hank Aaron” with your teammates – especially during these challenging times where most of us are working remotely and need help more than ever before. Look for opportunities to coach, train, advise and mentor your work colleagues and to serve as a “big brother” or “big sister” to them. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?””

M = Model: At a private party in 2014 in Washington, DC to celebrate Mr. Aaron’s 80th birthday at a hotel overlooking the White House, then Attorney General Eric Holder gestured toward a window and offered this giant compliment to Mr. Aaron: “The young man who lives right over there (referencing President Barack Obama), his path was made easier by this man.” Mr. Aaron was the quintessential role model and inspired others to reach their goals.

As leaders in the workplace we have the responsibilities of serving as great role models. Our teams, our customers and our partners are all watching us and our actions will speak louder than our words. Mr. Aaron exemplified the ultimate in class, dignity, integrity and grace. Be sure to model the same values in your workplace.

E = Excellence: My Aaron’s accomplishments on the baseball field are truly incredibly as he relentlessly performed at an extremely high level for such a long period of time. His baseball statistics are eye-popping and here’s a sampling of them: he owns Major League Baseball (MLB) records for 2,297 career runs batted in, 6,856 career total bases, 1,477 career extra base hits and 25 all-star appearances. From 1955-1970 Mr. Aaron played in 145 games or more in every single season (the number of games per season was 154 until 1962 when it then changed to 162 games). Finally, in my opinion he is the “true” MLB home runs leader with 755 as the player who surpassed him in this category in 2007 – Barry Bonds – has long been tainted as using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)

Always aspire to be consistently excellent like Mr. Aaron – both as a leader and in your craft. Of course, maintaining such a high level of excellence year in and year out in the workplace like Mr. Aaron did on the baseball field is an extremely difficult thing to do. It requires you to have a growth mindset, to be a lifelong learner and to embrace change as needed. Mr. Aaron once said, “Failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.”

R = Resilience: Unfortunately, Mr. Aaron faced a tremendous amount of racism throughout his life.  He initially experienced discrimination as a young boy growing up in Mobile, Alabama. As a minor league player for the Jacksonville Braves in the South Atlantic League, he was often separated from his team while traveling due to racial segregation and Jim Crow Laws. Towards the end of career as he was nearing Babe Ruth’s career home runs record, he received lots of hate mail and was subject to death threats. Despite all of the ugly and pervasive racism that he faced, Mr. Aaron still persevered and thrived both on and off the baseball field.

Mr. Aaron’s resiliency during the most difficult of times is truly remarkable. We can all learn from his tremendous strength as we face challenges both in the workplace and in our personal lives. Mr. Aaron’s grit and courage are an inspiration to all of us and here is one of my favorite quotes from Mr. Aaron: “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.”

Hank Aaron was much more than a legendary baseball player. He was also an American hero. Let’s all continue to learn from his incredible legacy.

 

Last week I learned that one of my senior business clients – who is a Microsoft Corporate Vice President – took on a new leadership position within Microsoft. While I was initially disappointed since she’s an outstanding leader and I worked hard to build a trusted advisor relationship with her, I also know that this is simply part of the ever-changing business environments that we work in. As in-house lawyers we need to constantly adapt to best serve our clients.

Building a new relationship with a senior business client presents a real opportunity that in-house counsel need to take advantage of – especially if it’s someone that you have never partnered with in the past. Also, we only have one opportunity to make a positive first impression.

Here’s some tips on how to commence a trusted advisor relationship with a new business client:

Say Congrats: Be sure to extend congratulations to both your outgoing client and incoming client. Tell your outgoing client that you wish her/him the best of luck in the new role and that you hope to partner with them again in the future – which is a distinct possibility so you want to continue to maintain a positive relationship with her/him.

For your incoming client reach out to that person via email/call, introduce yourself, extend congratulations and let them know that you are excited to partner with them. If you send an email perhaps also consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile so that she/he can learn more about you in case you have not worked with that person in the past. Also be sure to connect with your new client via LinkedIn if you aren’t already connected.

Do Some Reconnaissance: Try to learn some information about your new client. If your in-house legal teammates and other clients have worked with your new client in the past be sure to reach out to them for their thoughts about her/him and ask them for their opinion on how best to serve your new client in your role as corporate counsel. Also, spend the time to get to know that person by checking out her/his LinkedIn/Twitter profiles, background, posts, etc…..Perhaps you can identify the areas that you have in common with your new client which can serve as a foundation for building a new business relationship.

Schedule an Introductory Meeting: Be proactive to schedule an initial meeting with your new client for no longer than 15-30 minutes. During that meeting try to cover these areas:

  • Offer a brief perspective about your background, role and your legal team. Consider also developing a one page “get to know me” slide like the one which I have created about myself immediately below and which I share with my new business clients so they can learn something very quickly about my background.

  • Describe the various ways in which you and your team can provide high value and impact to your new client and his/her team moving forward that is aligned to their key business objectives.
  • Ask your new client about her/his previous experiences in working with legal teams and whether she/he can provide you with any feedback on how you and the legal team can best serve her/him moving forward.
  • Let your client know the best way to reach you moving forward and always be sure to share your cell phone number so she/he can quickly contact you as needed.
  • Try to find out about your new client’s preferred mode of communicating so that you can tailor your mode of communication to fit the needs of your new client. Also, ask if your new business client would be willing to convene monthly 1:1s so the two of you can stay well connected.
  • If your new client is new to your company also offer to help her/him as part of their official onboarding process.

Befriend Your New Client’s Admin/Chief of Staff: Always be sure to be super nice and friendly to the Admin/Chief of Staff of your new client. These folks are often the “gateway” to your new client and your new client will rely upon them immensely. Don’t be shy in asking the Admin/Chief of Staff to be included in your new client’s leadership team meetings, key email distribution lists/aliases, Microsoft Teams channels, etc….so that you can gain a better understanding of what is top of mind for your new client and are well positioned to deliver high value and impact.

Listen & Learn: In my experience with clients it’s always important to take the necessary time to actively listen and learn from them. Each senior executive will have her/his own leadership style and it’s very important early on in your relationship to thoughtfully absorb your new client’s way of thinking and to try to understand what is most important to her/him. Listen more and speak less – especially with new clients.

Get “Quick Wins” to Earn Trust: Whenever you have a new client it is so incredibly important to provide him/her with “white glove” legal support so that you can get off to a fast start in the relationship, begin to earn your client’s trust, demonstrate high value and make a highly positive first impression. When your new client reaches out to you be sure to respond immediately and provide your new client with clear, easily digestible and practical legal advice and counsel. Finally, always embrace a customer obsession mindset with your new client.

As we all know change is not easy – especially when you need to build a relationship with new clients. However, having the privilege to serve new clients and earning their trust provides in-house lawyers with a great opportunity for you and your legal department to demonstrate positive impact and move your organization forward. Be sure to capitalize on these opportunities!

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and reflect upon his legacy, it’s an important reminder that the legal industry has more work to do to advance diversity and inclusion.

We all know about the continued lack of minorities, women, people of color, disabled people and other underrepresented groups in the law – whether it be as employees or in senior positions of authority and influence.

As we think about opportunities to advance greater diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, here’s three points for us to keep in mind:

The Important Business Case for D&I: There have been plenty of science and studies by leading management consulting firms that have demonstrated time and time again that diverse teams outperform teams that are less diverse. I’ve seen this firsthand over the years by being part of and leading an incredible team of high-performing diverse lawyers and legal professionals at Microsoft who continue to deliver high-impact legal support to our sales, marketing and services teams across the United States in our constantly changing technology marketplace. More importantly they have also demonstrated remarkable grit and resiliency during the incredibly difficult times that we have experienced as a society over the past year.

Let’s all remember that while embracing diversity and inclusion for any organization is the morally right thing to do, it’s actually the very smart thing to do. As teams who work in the legal space think about how they can better serve their customers, ignite innovation and be more competitive in their marketplaces, one of the most important investments they can make is in recruiting, developing and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Please Don’t Ignore Hispanics: Hispanics make up 18% of the population in the United States and they are the largest minority group in our great country. Of course, as we all know, Hispanics don’t make up 18% of “Big Law” law firm partners and General Counsels. In fact, despite the existence of terrific Hispanic talent in the legal area, an argument can be made that Hispanics don’t seem to be actively considered for key positions – especially for senior level roles.

As a proud Hispanic whose Grandparents were born on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and migrated to the United States mainland, I encourage law firms and legal departments to accelerate the visibility of Hispanics, provide them with opportunities to lead and to please avoid ignoring them – especially since customers are increasingly of Hispanic origin and it’s estimated that Hispanics will make up a quarter of the US population by 2045.

In addition, if we are to see improved and sustained inclusion of Hispanics in the legal world, it will be incumbent upon Hispanics to do more. We need to be bolder, be more visible, be better organized, help each other, build relationships with key career sponsors, learn from others, speak up, and amplify the positive impact we drive as legal leaders to our respective management teams.

Let’s Accelerate & Embrace Change: Ever since I started my legal career over 20 years ago as a young lawyer in the IBM legal department, progress on diversity and inclusion in the legal industry over that period of time has remained slow. What that tells me is that if we want to truly advance greater inclusion in the legal vertical we need to change what we have been doing, learn from others, be more empathetic, try new ideas and not fear making any mistakes. Continue Reading D&I Observations on Dr. MLK Jr’s Birthday

After a very challenging 2020, it’s great to see 2021. Happy New Year!

While I know that many folks make official New Years resolutions, I have never been much of a New Years resolutions type of guy. We need to constantly change as lawyers or we risk irrelevancy – and the same can also be said for our personal lives. From my perspective, a specific date is not needed for us to change or to try something new – as the folks at Nike say “Just Do It!

That said, here’s 3 things that I think we can all do better as lawyers as we begin 2021:

  • Wellness, Wellness and More Wellness: As I’ve written about before wellness is our best investment – and to say that the pandemic has underscored the importance of staying healthy is a huge understatement. Continue to put your health first and think about what more you can do to improve your mental and physical wellness.

I have recently changed up my workout routine as I have pivoted from jogging 3 days a week to getting outside early in the morning every day for an 1-1.5 hour “power walk” and increasing it to 2+ hours per day on the weekends. Doing so has improved my mental wellness as it ensures that I get out of my WFH environment every day (even in the cold Western Suburbs of Chicago) and it is less taxing on my body when compared to jogging.

  • Technology, Technology, Technology & Trust: As we learned during 2020 with the pandemic, technology is playing a bigger and more impactful role in our lives. I believe that technology is a lawyer’s best friend and we all need to continue to put technology to work for us and our clients in 2021. Also be sure to partner with technology providers that you can truly trust with your valuable data – especially given the critical importance of data privacy and cybersecurity-related considerations.
  • Make Others Better via Greater Knowledge Sharing: Many legal teams unfortunately remain very stuck in their silos. Leading technology tools like Microsoft Teams enables legal departments and law firms to share information seamlessly, to “crowdsource” problem solving and to get out of our silos. Look for more opportunities on your legal team to help your teammates, help your clients and to demonstrate your leadership by constantly sharing relevant information, best practices and lessons learned. Knowledge is power and the more key information that we can share, the better.

I’m also planning to write more blogs posts in 2021 on various topics at the intersection of law, business and technology – and perhaps a few regarding my favorite sport of baseball as I view baseball as a “microcosm” of life.

Let’s be sure to get off to a “Fast Start” in 2021 and please stay safe and healthy!

Yesterday I learned of the unfortunate death of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. Sadly, Mr. Niekro is the 7th Hall of Fame player that has died in 2020 and a few months ago I wrote about two of those baseball immortals here. I’m a big baseball fan and every time I learn about the passing of a ballplayer that I watched and grew up to as a kid, part of my youth also passes away.

Mr. Niekro had an incredible career as he won 318 games (and he won his 300th game with my beloved NY Yankees) as a pitcher and he did so in a highly unconventional fashion. Instead of throwing the typical repertoire of fastballs, sliders, curveballs, change-ups, sinkerballs, screwballs, split-fingered fastballs, etc….that most pitchers throw, he relied primarily on a very unique pitch known as the knuckleball that he and his younger brother Joe Niekro – another highly successful major league baseball pitcher who won 221 games –  both learned to throw from their father growing up in Ohio. The knuckleball pitch requires a specialized grip on the ball, is very hard to master and there have only been a score of knuckleballers across baseball in the past 50 years or so. Knuckleballs can move a lot when they slowly “flutter” towards home plate and they can be very difficult for opposing batters to hit if thrown correctly (and if they are thrown incorrectly they are like batting practice for major league hitters).

As I reflect upon Mr. Niekro’s career, here’s some learnings for us as lawyers and business professionals:

Be Authentic and a “Maverick”: Mr. Niekro’s highly successful baseball career was premised upon doing something entirely different from his peers by throwing his signature knuckleball pitch. His “maverick” pitching style as a knuckleballer provided him with a competitive differentiator over others. Not only did he have incredible success as a pitcher, but since the knuckleball did not exact a toll on his pitching arm like other harder thrown pitches do he was able to be even more valuable, durable and versatile to his teams by pitching on short rest, pitching many complete games, serving as both a starter and a relief pitcher and pitching in the major leagues for an incredible 24 seasons.

In our Corporate America environment where so many people sound the same and look the same, think about what separates you from the masses as you deliver differentiated value to your clients. As you serve your clients don’t be fearful in being a so-called “maverick” who generates fresh ideas, is willing to think differently and is unafraid at throwing proverbial knuckleballs to opposing counsel that are hard for them to handle.

Recognize the Key Skill of Getting Things Done: Throughout Mr. Niekro’s career he was not a flashy pitcher, he played on many low-performing Atlanta Braves teams in a small market and was overshadowed by other great “power” pitchers during his generation like Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, etc….who received more attention, more accolades, more Cy Young Awards and more World Series trophies than he did. In fact, some did not think that Mr. Niekro was even Hall of Fame worthy. However, year in and year out he continued to do his job under the radar, at a very high level and kept amassing pitching victories over a very lengthy 24 year career.

Many of us have teammates on our own teams who continually deliver high value to their clients every day – but perhaps they aren’t noticed by their management because they don’t crave attention, aren’t provided high “visibility” opportunities, aren’t interested in playing office politics, etc… Mr. Niekro’s somewhat “quiet” yet long career is a great reminder for leaders at law firms and at in-house legal departments that the so-called “lunch pail” type of lawyers and business professionals in our workplaces who may be behind the scenes, who don’t complain, who make others better and most importantly – know how to get things done – should not be forgotten. Instead, they should be celebrated and appropriately recognized.

Avoid Unconscious Bias: I remember watching Mr. Niekro pitch during the early 1980s when he was with the Braves courtesy of the TV station TBS at that time and when he played with my New York Yankees in 1984 and 1985. Quite frankly if you ever saw Mr. Niekro on the pitching mound he could have been mistaken for someone who was playing on a weekend softball team of “over the hill” players.  Although he may have never looked or pitched like a prototypical major league pitcher, he consistently fooled hitters throughout his career enroute to 318 pitching wins with his very hard to hit knuckleball.  Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks once said, “He simply destroys your timing with that knuckleball. It comes flying in there dipping and hopping like crazy and you just can’t hit it.”

Mr. Niekro’s career is a great reminder that we should never judge a book by its cover and that we need to avoid our own unconscious bias about others. Just because someone in our opinion may not look or speak the part of an outstanding lawyer or business leader doesn’t mean they are incapable of being an outstanding lawyer or business leader.

Age + Experience = an Asset and Not a Liability: Incredibly, Mr. Niekro pitched until he was 48 years of age into the 1987 baseball season. In addition, he won 121 games after he turned 40 – which is a major league record. Also while winning 318 games over 24 seasons, only 3 other major pitchers ever pitched more than Mr. Niekro’s 5,404 total innings. When Mr. Niekro was 40 years old in 1979 he threw 23 complete games – nowadays it is rare to see a pitcher even throw 1 or 2 complete 9 inning games during a typical season.

Mr. Niekro’s longevity in a game that can be unforgiving for players who lose their timing, great eyesight, speed and ability to throw as they age is simply remarkable. In Corporate America where ageism is a reality, Mr. Niekro’s career reminds us that older workers can still provide high value to their organizations as their age and that their experience, guile, confidence and ability to mentor others are very important assets. In addition, as we think about advancing diversity and inclusion within our respective organizations, we should remember that older employees contribute to that diversity and inclusion – and to the success of organizations.

My condolences to the entire Niekro family and may Mr. Niekro AKA “Knucksie” rest in peace.

After an unprecedented and highly tumultuous year in 2020 we are all looking forward to a new year in 2021! 2021 will continue to present important opportunities and challenges for in-house counsel. Here’s my “Top 5” focus areas for corporate counsel and their legal departments in 2021:

Continued Covid-19 Impact: While we end 2020 with the beginning of the extensive Covid-19 vaccination process across the world, there will be no vaccine per se for the continued legal issues involving the pandemic. As many organizations prepare for an eventual return of employees back to the physical workplace, a hybrid work environment or even a totally remote work experience, in-house counsel will need to continue to help their clients navigate thru a variety of employment law related considerations. In addition, we will probably begin to see various types of Covid-19 related litigation in our court systems as they try to resume their normal schedules sometime during 2021 as well as continued commercial, employment and other types of Covid-19 centric disputes. Hopefully, industries that have been hit very hard by the pandemic – such as the travel, transportation and hospitality industries – will begin to recover with increased opportunities for their legal teams to help drive positive impact. In addition, US federal Covid-19-related stimulus packages during 2020 such as the CARES Act should create more business opportunities and legal work in key sectors such as healthcare and the public sector. Finally, the “grind” of the pandemic will continue to exact its toll upon the wellness of in-house counsel and their legal departments.

It’s Data Privacy & Cybersecurity All the Time: As technology plays a larger role in our personal and professional lives, issues pertaining to the protection of that technology and its associated data are of paramount importance. At the same time we are seeing more privacy laws being enacted, regulators are become proactive in enforcing those laws and cybercriminals (including nation-states) are unfortunately continuing to weaponize technology to wreak havoc on everyone.

As this intersection of technology, data, privacy and cybersecurity becomes increasingly complex and incredibly relevant to all organizations, this means that in-house lawyers need to “skill-up” in the data privacy and cybersecurity areas. In my view data privacy and data security are becoming core legal skills that all corporate counsel need to be conversant in as they are highly relevant for virtually any in-house counsel role. Here’s some steps that in-house counsel can take to serve as more impactful data privacy and cybersecurity advisors to their respective organizations:

  • Staying abreast of the ever-changing data privacy and cybersecurity law landscape and its potential impact to your business;
  • Monitoring and learning from the increasing number of cybersecurity and ransomware incidents that are negatively impacting businesses and governments across the globe;
  • Helping your clients conduct thoughtful due diligence on your potential technology providers and supply-chain to make sure that your can trust them with securing your data;
  • Building deep and trusted legal advisor relationships with senior and influential clients such as your Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Compliance Officer and their respective teams; and
  • Becoming a data privacy and cybersecurity “patriot” by actively shaping and delivering practical data privacy and cybersecurity training to your clients so that you can help create and maintain a data protection-first and cybersecurity-first culture within your organization.

Increased US Regulatory Compliance: After a long and contentious US Presidential election we will have a new occupant in the White House in less than one month. While it will be interesting to see the impact of the new Biden administration on Corporate America, Wall Street and the various business industry sectors, it may be the case that we will see more activity in the regulatory space via new executive orders, the enactment of new laws (which may depend on which political party winds up controlling the Senate and whether there’s any appetite between our political parties to come to consensus on various issues) and more regulatory enforcement. In-house counsel will need to consider the potential proactive regulatory impact of the new Biden administration on their organizations and their legal teams/government affairs teams will need to look for opportunities to build positive relationships with the incoming administration, governmental agencies and key regulators.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is Here to Stay: Over the past several years ESG-related considerations have become increasingly important for businesses and there’s a wealth of opportunities for in-house counsel to positively impact the ESG space. In fact, in-house legal departments may want to consider creating their own specialized ESG-focused practice group in this area if they have not already done so. With the new Biden administration there’s a good chance we will see more active enforcement of the environmental laws and a significant focus on climate control initiatives. More and more leading companies with strong brand recognition have unveiled their efforts to reduce their own carbon emissions and the Chief Sustainability Officer role has the become a newer and highly visible C-Level role in Corporate America. As our society continues to be engaged in important discussions on social issues – such as the continued racial and gender inequality in our country – companies need to be better equipped in both proactively responding to and meaningfully addressing such key issues within their own corporate environments. Increasingly, in-house legal teams need to serve as a smart “sounding board” to help their companies in carefully considering the potential external social impact of their company’s decisions. The area of corporate governance is another important element of ESG – and especially as it relates to companies advancing greater diversity and inclusion in the ranks of their senior leadership and Board of Directors.

Reimaging the Legal Department: The pandemic has forced in-house legal departments to embrace change and leverage leading technology to enable remote work in order to remain highly productive. As a result, in-house counsel and their legal teams have demonstrated their ability to be resilient and to change the way they work to serve their clients during one of the most difficult periods that we have ever faced in our society. I think this coming year provides legal teams with opportunities to hit a “reset” on how their legal department operates and to accelerate their ability to adapt so they can drive greater positive impact for their clients in our ever-changing technology and data-first post pandemic world. As you build and evolve your legal teams to become “world-class” to deliver legal services with greater speed, agility and smarter risk-taking, consider focusing upon the following key areas:

  • Identifying more opportunities to work smarter (and not necessarily harder) to free up space to perform more high-value work;
  • Measuring your legal team’s success in terms of delivering clear, positive and tangible business impact to your clients;
  • Improving your understanding of your client’s changing needs;
  • Leveraging highly trusted technology and data insights to better serve you and your clients;
  • Driving a stronger culture within your legal team to collaborate, share knowledge, exchange lessons learned, and to truly break down silos;
  • Creating superior psychological safety, wellness, diversity and inclusion on your team;
  • Requiring greater value from your outside counsel law firms, alternative legal services providers, legal tech companies and other legal service providers; and
  • Re-recruiting and rewarding your best talent.

In our increasingly complex and uncertain world, now more than ever our clients need high impact and practical legal guidance that is delivered with speed from their in-house legal teams. Always strive to deliver high value to your business clients and embrace change so you can better serve them.

Last week I delivered a presentation to our Microsoft Legal Department Latinx employee community about strategies for remaining visible – and increasing your visibility – in the workplace despite working in a remote environment. As we all know not being physically in the workplace with our teammates can present unique challenges for us in getting noticed and to be “seen” by our management team. As many of us will continue to work virtually during the pandemic – and afterwards as many employers will move to a hybrid or a totally remote workplace – here’s a series of best practices to embrace to help increase your visibility at your employer while you work from home.

Be Visible and Memorable!

When I was a kid I used to read comic books and my favorite comic book series was about the Fantastic Four – four superheroes who each had unique strengths to help combat crime. One of the superheroes was the Invisible Woman AKA Sue Storm Richards who had the ability to render herself invisible when needed. The last thing that you want to be to your employer is “invisible” – especially during the Covid-19 era. In addition, you want to ensure that you are highly memorable to your employer, that you constantly leave a favorable impression and that you differentiate yourself from others.

Overcommunicate, Overcommunicate, Overcommunicate 

As you work remotely, always be sure to constantly communicate – whether it be via email, Microsoft Teams posts, instant messages/chat, text, video, mobile phone, etc….with your teammates, your peers and your management team. Since you will not have opportunities to connect with them in-person our ability to stay in touch and to communicate clearly and consistently with each other is of paramount importance. Also don’t be shy in overcommunicating with others – especially to let them know about the matters you are engaged in and how you are driving positive impact.

Be a “Humblebrag”

Look for every opportunity to promote the positive impact that you are delivering for your clients to your management team. Don’t be afraid to “toot your horn” as we are often in the best position to describe our key achievements and we cannot rely on others to do so. When your clients or teammates express a positive experience or provide compliments in working with you be sure to proactively share those accolades with your manager.

Have High Quality 1:1s with Managers & Skip-Level Managers

While I recognize that we are all trying to be smarter about convening meetings, if you aren’t already doing so make sure that you have a standing 1:1 meeting with your manager at least once a month and that you have periodic 1:1 meetings with your skip-level manager – perhaps on a quarterly basis. Be sure to prepare for these meetings, provide a bulleted point list of agenda items in advance that you would like to cover, spend some time talking about your impact/achievements/value that you are delivering to your clients, seek feedback and ask how you can help them.

Schedule Virtual Coffees with Teammates

Think about opportunities to continue to network internally within your organization by scheduling virtual 1:1/coffee-type sessions with members of your organization that you may not know so well or to reconnect with teammates that you have not spoken to in a while. These sessions don’t need to be more than 30 minutes in length and use those opportunities to become better acquainted with your teammates, to learn about their careers and to seek career advice from them. Implementing this practice will serve to grow your network and visibility within your company and always end these discussions by asking if there’s anything that you can do to help them.

Create “Impact” Reports

Periodically provide your manager and senior clients with a short report that depicts the positive impact and value that you and your teams are delivering to your clients. As you develop this report focus on the impact that you are delivering – instead of a list of activities – that are aligned to the key objectives of your clients and your legal department.  Also try to quantify the business impact of your primary accomplishments that drive positive impact for your employer.

Don’t Be Camera Shy

While participating on videoconference calls can be exhausting for all of us, when you have important discussions with your management team, business clients and teammates, turn your video on so that folks can see you. We are all familiar with the saying that “out of sight, out of mind” which is also applicable to Corporate America. Turning your video on during calls – or when it is your turn to speak during a large group call – enables you to look your teammate right in the eye by looking at and speaking directly to the camera on your device so that you can connect with them in a positive fashion and to demonstrate your attention on what they have to say to you. Also be thoughtful on how you appear on camera as well as your background – and use a pleasant virtual background if needed.

Speak Up and Be Heard

Look for more opportunities to speak and have your voice heard during virtual team meetings. For those of us that may be introverted and less likely to speak during in-person meetings, our virtual work environment may actually help drive greater inclusivity and participation from others. Even if you don’t speak up during these meetings consider contributing to the conservation through the virtual chat features of common videoconferencing and collaboration platforms like Microsoft TeamsZoom, etc…

Proactively Share Your Knowledge

Making others better by sharing best practices, knowledge and lessons learned with your teammates is a great way to get noticed by your management team and to demonstrate your leadership and expertise. Nowadays as companies use leading collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack it is super easy for you to post and share your expertise on these tools which can also be seen by those within your management chain.

Keep Matter Management Tools Current 

Often times lawyers are required to use tools that keep track of the matters they are working on (e.g., contracts/deals, litigation) so that their management teams have line of sight to such information at their fingertips. Make sure that you embrace operational excellence by constantly updating such tools to reflect the latest content for the matters that you are engaged in so that you share key knowledge and position yourself to receive the appropriate recognition from your management team.

Volunteer for More Work

If you have the capacity to take on additional work, consider raising your hand to your management team to let them know that you are open to taking on additional responsibilities. Expanding your work portfolio can make you more valuable to your organization and doing so can improve your visibility.

Deliver Presentations

Giving presentations at internal team/all hands/town hall meetings are a great way to grow your visibility. Ask your manager or senior business clients whether there’s an opportunity for you to have time on the agenda at an upcoming meeting to present on a key topic where you have some expertise. There are also opportunities for you to deliver external presentations at the numerous legal conferences and continuing legal education events that are now held virtually and which no longer require you to travel to participate. As you prepare for your presentations please be sure to check out my earlier blog post.

Do Great Work

Of course, in order to get noticed by your senior leaders in a virtual world you also need to perform your job at a very high level by delivering high-impact and positive results in areas that are of importance to your senior leadership team.

Go Above and Beyond

Even if you perform your core job responsibilities at a high level, you will often need to go above and beyond your “day job” to gain visibility with your management team. Work with your manager and others to identify opportunities to participate in those activities that are not technically part of your routine day-to-day work at your company and which are aligned to the top of mind areas of your management team (e.g., diversity and inclusion initiatives, strategic projects, special cross-group committees).

Play Bigger than your Role

Look for opportunities to drive positive impact at your company that is beyond the basic expectations of your role. If you are an in-house lawyer view your position as the true General Counsel/Chief Legal Officer of the area or segment that you support. For instance, if you are the lead lawyer for an important business segment that is US-based for an international company, also help drive positive impact and value to your colleagues and teammates outside the US. Playing “bigger than your role” will help position you as a more valuable high-impact contributor and thought leader within your legal department.

Actively Use Social Media like LinkedIn

Leveraging LinkedIn as a social media tool can also enhance your brand at your employer. Be sure to connect via LinkedIn with your teammates at your company. Like, share and comment on the LinkedIn posts of your teammates. Look for opportunities to serve as an evangelist for your employer by consistently posting and sharing positive content on LinkedIn about your company. More tips on how to embrace LinkedIn can be found here.

 

During this past week two icons from the baseball world – Lou Brock and Tom Seaver – sadly passed away. They largely played during the same era and according to ESPN, as a hitter Mr. Brock faced Mr. Seaver as a pitcher 157 times – that was Mr. Brock’s most plate appearances against any pitcher and Mr. Brock was the batter that Mr. Seaver faced the most.

While their enormous talents on the baseball field provided so many great memories for baseball fans like myself, their legacies also offer these valuable lessons that are applicable to all of us who work in Corporate America:

Identify, Embrace & Don’t Lose Great Talent

In 1964 the Chicago Cubs traded Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1977 the New York Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. In both cases the Cubs and Mets made poor trades, received limited talent in return and essentially discarded these two future baseball Hall of Famers. After Mr. Brock was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals he blossomed into a star outfielder and led the Redbirds to three World Series and two World Series Championships in 1964 and 1967.  Although Mr. Seaver’s best days as a pitcher was as a member of the New York Mets, after he was traded he still remained a very productive pitcher for the rest of the career, he threw his first and only no-hitter in 1978 and he won 113 games in his post-New York Mets career with the Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. These bad baseball trades serve to remind us that people are any organization’s greatest asset. As leaders we all need to be highly skilled in identifying great talent, we need to know when to “re-recruit” such talent, we need to nurture such talent and we need to provide opportunities for that talent to be successful.

Prepare, Prepare & Prepare

Both Lou Brock and Tom Seaver were masters at their respective crafts. Mr. Brock was known as one of the baseball’s most prolific base stealers as he is second all-time in career stolen bases with 938 and he even stole 118 bases during the 1974 season. As a pitcher Mr. Seaver won 311 games during his career and earned the coveted Cy Young Award 3 times. While they both of course had outstanding natural athletic abilities, they both took their respective talent to the next level by excellent preparation and hard work. In the case of Mr. Brock – in an era when ballplayers did not watch or study videos of themselves or opposing ballplayers as they do nowadays – Mr. Brock filmed pitchers on an eight-millimeter camera. He studied the films to try to gain an edge on pitchers so that he could get a better jump off their respective pitching deliveries in order to steal a base. Mr. Seaver was also maniacal in his preparation. Gil Hodges, Jr, the son of Mr. Seaver’s former NY Mets manager who led the “Amazin Mets” to their first World Series Championship in 1969, offered the following quote in this Newsday article: “The only thing my dad always told me about Tom was nobody was prepared for a game like he did. He never left anything to chance.” As true students of the great game of baseball, Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver never settled for complacency and they constantly honed their skills so they could perform at their highest levels. Being highly successful in our own professions requires a similar Lou Brock and Tom Seaver type of commitment to hard work, preparation and constant learning. 

Be a Terrific Teammate

While the baseball world called Tom Seaver “Tom Terrific” because of his excellence as a pitcher, by many accounts he was also a terrific teammate who helped make his colleagues better. A recent NY Times article talked about how Mr. Seaver mentored a then young and somewhat “raw” pitcher from the Dominican Republic named Mario Soto during the early 1980s while they were teammates on the Reds. He did the same a few years later with another then young pitcher Roger Clemens when they were teammates with the Red Sox in 1986. Mr. Brock was also an equally great teammate. As mentioned in this article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Keith Hernandez, the 1979 co-Most Valuable Player in the National League said, “I don’t think I would have made it without Lou. For him to be a superstar and I, as a young kid, who was struggling, to take me under his wing and offer all his advice is a testament to who he was. He was an extraordinary man.” As we work at our respective organizations, think about opportunities to help make your teammates better. One of the most important legacies that we can leave is making a positive impact on the lives of others.

 

 

Resiliency is Key  

As a lifelong New York Yankees baseball fan, I have grown increasingly frustrated at how the current era of young and physically strong Yankees players seem to be highly injury-prone as they unfortunately spend more time getting medical treatment from their trainers instead of being on the baseball diamond. This was never the case for Mr. Brock or Mr. Seaver as they hardly spent any time on the injured list – previously known as the disabled list – when they played in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. From 1964 to 1974, Mr. Brock played in over 150+ games per year (out of a maximum of 162 games) – many of which were played in the sweltering heat of St. Louis. Likewise from 1967 to 1979 Mr. Seaver started 30+ games as a pitcher per year. The incredible resiliency that Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver demonstrated throughout their careers is something that we can all marvel at as business professionals. In fact, the next time you find it difficult to “show up” virtually at work nowadays or complain about participating on yet another Microsoft Teams or Zoom call, think about Mr. Brock’s and Mr. Seaver’s dedication to their own workplaces.

Reinvent Yourself

Mr. Brock (19 years) and Mr. Seaver (20 years) also had very long careers in Major League Baseball as Mr. Brock retired at 40 and Mr. Seaver at 41 years of age. Towards the twilight of their respective careers on the field they also needed to embrace change and reinvent themselves in order to keep on playing. Near the end of his career during the 1978 season as age was catching up to him, Mr. Brock lost his starting job in left field as he was mired in a prolonged hitting slump. He returned the following year with a vengeance as a 40 year old as he hit for a .304 batting average, surpassed 3,000 career hits and earned the “Comeback Player of the Year” – the first player to be so named in his final season in Major League Baseball. Early in his career Mr. Seaver was known as a “power pitcher” but as he lost velocity on his fastball during the late 1970s he needed to rely more on other pitches, to lean on his extensive experience and to constantly change the speeds and locations of his pitches in order to keep hitters off-balance. Whether it be in baseball or in business, Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver confirmed that the only constant is change and that regardless of our professions we all need to embrace change and adapt in order to continue to be successful.

Be Great Ambassadors for your Organizations 

Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver are respectively synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets brands. Mr. Brock was the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals for so many years and as a stolen base artist he also stole the hearts of legions of Cardinals fans. Mr. Seaver was affectionately known as “The Franchise” when he was a member of the New York Mets, led them from being perennial losers to their first World Series Championship in 1969 and is without a doubt the greatest Met of all-time. Due to their performance on the field and their extreme popularity off the field, these two men were great ambassadors for their teams – and for the great game of baseball. As representatives of your own employers, think about opportunities for you to serve as a leading brand ambassador for your respective organizations and to help your employer earn and maintain the trust of your company’s customers, partners and employees.

The respective legacies of Lou Brock and Tom Seaver will live on and off the baseball diamond forever.

 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likes to say that “trust cannot be claimed – it can only be earned.” As in-house counsel we must always remember that we need to earn the trust and confidence of our clients every day as we need to view them as our ultimate customers – and especially now more than ever as we help our respective organizations during these uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some best practices – in no particular order – that all in-house counsel can employ to ensure they are putting their clients at the center of everything they do by embracing a customer obsession mindset with them:

  • Super Fast & Custom Responsiveness: We are all customers in some shape and form. When we need help from our own service providers we all appreciate it when they respond back to us quickly. Likewise, as in-house counsel we need to remember that we are also all service providers and when our business clients reach out to us for help we need to respond back to them ASAP. One of the very worst things we can do as in-house counsel is to ignore our clients since they are our most important customers. We want to inspire our clients to have the confidence in seeking out our legal advice time and time again as that is the greatest compliment they can pay us. Always be sure to respond back to your business clients on the same day of their initial request – and ideally within a few hours – even if it’s only to acknowledge receipt of their inquiry. If you cannot answer their question(s) immediately please be sure to provide them with a reasonable time estimate as to when you’ll be able to help address their request(s) in a more comprehensive manner. Also customize your response back to your business clients in the medium that your business clients find most appealing to them whether it be via email, via Microsoft Teams, live conversation, instant message, text message, etc…
  • Be Short & Sweet: All of our clients are super busy business professionals. When we deliver our legal advice to them always be succinct and to the point as our clients do not need to read lengthy emails or long legal memorandums. In addition, avoid using any legal jargon in your advice and make it super easy and very clear to understand.  When I respond to an email from my clients my “golden-rule” is that I never reply back with an email that is longer than the screen of my Surface Laptop – and probably better to make it even shorter and more easily readable as your clients are probably digesting their emails on their phones. If my advice is more involved then I will simply set up a conference call with my client to discuss further. Also when I deliver presentations to my clients I try not to speak longer than 15 minutes in length – the typical timeframe of a TED Talk presentation – as our business clients are typically not interested in hearing their lawyers speak for an extended period of time (believe it or not).
  • Overcommunicate When Needed: Our clients also don’t want to be blindsided or surprised when significant issues arise. For highly visible matters or issues that are important to your clients be sure to provide constant status updates by “overcommunicating” to them as needed so they remain well-informed. In my experience it’s always better to be conservative and to “overcommunicate” with our business clients regarding high-profile matters versus “undercommunicating.”
  • Embrace Smart Risk-Taking: As we counsel our business clients remember that many business clients are seeking to understand the true “practical” risk of making a particular decision versus the “theoretical” risk. In-house counsel can provide high-value legal services to their clients when they help them engage in smart risk-taking and in this article I  provide a methodology on how lawyers can help their clients take smart-risks.
  • Actively Learn the Business: Invest the time to understand the business that you are supporting. To the extent that in-house lawyers can deepen their understanding of their company, its customers, its solutions, its business models, its opportunities, its challenges, its competition, etc…they will be better positioned to provide higher impact legal support to their clients. Just the other day I was speaking to a senior lawyer at a major retail provider and he told me how their lawyers are required to work on the front-lines with customers at their stores for a few days as part of their onboarding into the company so they can better understand its business. Look for opportunities to absorb yourself in your company’s business by attending key business and leadership team meetings, shadowing your key clients to get a “day in their work life” perspective from them, participating in internal company trainings, using its products/solutions, etc…
  •  Know Your Clients: Spend some time getting to know your clients, their backgrounds, their interests, etc….Reviewing their profiles on LinkedIn and connecting/following them via LinkedIn and Twitter (if they are as Twitter user) are great ways to build your professional relationships with your business clients and become more empathetic to their perspectives and needs. Also when your work with new clients invest the time to reach out to them, introduce yourself, try to understand their needs and let them know that you and your team stand ready, willing and able to help them.
  • Feedback Is a Gift: Actively seek feedback from your key clients and encourage them to provide constructive feedback regarding how you and your teams can better serve them. Create a “safe” space to invite such feedback from your clients and once you receive that feedback thank them for taking the time to do so and be sure to convert that feedback into actionable steps for you and your team to take moving forward.
  • Share Knowledge & Learnings: Try to be more strategic when delivering legal services to your business clients. While in-house counsel are often in a more tactical and “reactive” mode in helping to problem solve the many inquiries from their business clients, also be sure to proactively share thoughtful knowledge and learnings with them. Such best practices and lessons learned can offer your business clients with increased value that can enable them to be more agile and more well-informed.
  • Closely Align with the Business: Be sure to spend time with your clients to clearly understand their respective business goals and align the provision of your legal services with such goals. Consider providing your senior clients with a periodic report leveraging data that demonstrates how you and your teams are positively impacting the key focus areas of your senior clients. Once a month I provide my senior client and his leadership team with a report in a table format that I call a “scorecard” where I depict the work we have completed during the previously month in an easily consumable fashion that is aligned to their key business objectives.
  • Every Client is Important: While we all have senior clients that we need to serve and pay great attention to, also remember that every client is the most important client – regardless of their seniority in your company. Treat all of your clients as if they are your company’s CEO.
  • Learn, Learn and Learn: Take the time to learn from your legal teammates – and your business clients if they are in a sales/customer-facing role – about what they do to advance customer satisfaction with their own clients and customers. Over the years I have had the privilege to provide legal support to world-class sales organizations and many excellent customer account executives. Observing how they serve their customers has been highly instructive in helping me better serve my clients.
  • Actively Follow-Up: In my experience as an in-house counsel sometimes we render legal advice to our business clients on an issue and we may never hear back from them about that issue as it goes into a proverbial “black hole.” When needed don’t be shy in following-up with clients to ask if they require any additional help from you on a previous matter.
  • Admit and Learn from Mistakes: We all make mistakes at times – especially in a fast-paced environment where we are trying to keep up with the sometimes demanding needs of our clients. When we make mistakes with our business clients be sure to own up to those mistakes, apologize quickly for your mistakes and be sure to learn from those mistakes.
  • Embrace Change: We all know that the “the only constant is change” – especially in our world that is driven by “tech intensity.” Recognize that you will need to constantly evolve how you serve your clients in our ever-changing world. Don’t avoid or be afraid of change – instead, by being open to change you will grow your in-house counsel skills and be better positioned to provide greater value to your clients.
  • Take Ownership: Be sure to really own and nurture your trusted legal advisor relationship with your clients. Even if you are not the General Counsel in your organization, always have a General Counsel mindset with your business clients as being their “go-to” lawyer who they will constantly look to for excellent legal advice and counsel.

As in-house lawyers I believe that we have some of the best jobs in the legal industry and we have a great opportunity in front of us as our clients rely on us more than ever before. Best of luck on your journey in embracing a customer-obsession mindset when serving your clients.