Major League Baseball (MLB) is my favorite sport and tomorrow is MLB’s Opening Day 2021. In honor of Opening Day, there are lessons that all in-house counsel can learn from the great sport of baseball about the importance of versatility.
One of my favorite baseball players is Javier (“Javy”) Baez and he plays for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Nicknamed “El Mago” in Spanish or “the Magician,” Mr. Baez is a very exciting ballplayer for the Cubs as he has a rare combination of strong defense, power and speed. However, in my view, one of Mr. Baez’s greatest skills is his ability to play multiple positions on the baseball field. While he is primarily a shortstop – he has also played third base, second base and on occasion first base. He is also athletic enough to play any position in the outfield – and I have little doubt that he could play catcher in the event the Cubs catchers were injured.
As teams were determining their final player rosters for Opening Day this season, all of them wished that they had a Mr. Baez who can play a variety of positions very well in order to maximize their resources and make the team much stronger. All in-house legal teams need lawyers like Mr. Baez who have “range” and can “flex” when needed so that we can best serve our clients.
Here are some thoughts on how in-house counsel can be like Mr. Baez and make themselves more versatile – and more valuable – to their respective legal teams:
Be a Technology Wizard: The pandemic has underscored the importance of technology in the way all lawyers work. Increasingly, technology is the foundation for the operations of all legal departments and their respective practice groups. In-house counsel can make themselves more versatile and valuable by being “power users” of technology – and leveraging the associated data analytics from such technology to help make smart decisions – in order to promote greater productivity, efficiency and collaboration in how she/he works.
Privacy, Privacy, Privacy: While technology plays a bigger role in our lives, the massive amounts of data generated by that technology needs to be properly protected. As we continue to see a proliferation of new data privacy laws and growing cybersecurity concerns, the legal skills associated with understanding data privacy/data protection are core skills for any legal department’s practice group. Data privacy is a learned skill that all corporate counsel need to be deeply conversant as it is easily transportable and highly relevant to virtually any role within a legal team.
Stretch Yourself: Actively seek out opportunities from your management team to learn new skills or to “shadow” others in their roles. Embrace the growth mindset mentality by “stretching” yourself in doing new things for your legal team. For instance, if you are a deal lawyer, ask for an opportunity to work on matters involving your dispute resolution team, your compliance team, your regulatory affairs team, etc… Also, be the first to raise your hand to help on special projects and new initiatives that are important to your legal teams.
Legal Role Rotations: A great best practice for any legal team is to periodically move their lawyers around to work in various different practice groups so they can gain new skills and become even more valuable. As legal teams embrace a “hybrid” or “remote” work environment moving forward, there will be greater opportunities for in-house legal departments to more seamlessly rotate their lawyers in this fashion. One of the lawyers on my team recently supported our partner group team earlier this fiscal year, she is now back with my team and her six month rotation supporting a different set of clients – and being exposed to a different set of business/legal issues – has made her even more valuable to our team.
Make Others Better: In-house counsel should view themselves as “coaches” to their teammates. Look for opportunities to always making your teammates better by proactively sharing your knowledge, mentoring others, offering them feedback, collaborating effectively and being a true team player in helping them problem solve issues for their clients. Taking the time to invest in your teammates and making them great provides important positive impact for your entire legal team – and makes you even more valuable.
Online Training Opportunities: Continue to build your skills on a remote basis by taking advantage of virtual trainings that your employer or others may offer. For instance, LinkedIn offers terrific resources for you to gain more valuable skills so that you can better serve your clients.
Become Certified: Consider obtaining industry/legal practice-type certifications that require you to become more skilled in a particular area and which are relevant to the work that your legal department performs. For example, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) is a leading privacy group that offers several certifications in the area of data privacy. Also, don’t be shy and seeking reimbursement from your legal team for the associated costs in such certification(s) by building a thoughtful business case as to why such certification(s) are relevant to your job/legal team.
After this season Mr. Baez will become a “free agent” – meaning that teams other than the Chicago Cubs can offer him a contract for his services as a ballplayer. At the time that I wrote this blog, the New York Mets baseball team offered a $325 Million 10-Year contract to another comparable baseball player named Francisco Lindor – who plays the same primary position of shortstop as Mr. Baez – but Mr. Lindor is technically not as versatile as Mr. Baez. It’s just a matter of time before Mr. Baez’s versatility and value will financially pay off for him and make him very wealthy. As in-house counsel, it’s smart for us to try to be like Javy Baez on the legal playing field.