Most of the lawyers I know and deal with are exceptional professionals and generally, great people. They are not the ambulance chasing, greedy, egocentric, lying, unethical, do anything for a buck hired guns that people stereotype as your traditional lawyer. As an in-house lawyer, my one client, the business, would suffer if I were to fall prey to these stereotypes. It is possible in some situations the loud aggressive pit-bull attorney finds success and is necessary. As an in-house construction lawyer, if that were my approach when dealing with other stakeholders, I would still be working on the first contract to come across my desk.
I have adopted some of the rules my six year old was sent home with after his first day of kindergarten. Listen, be safe, polite and respectful, and play nice with others. My playground is buzzing everyday with non-client parties like customers, subcontractors, vendors, GC’s, owners, regulatory agencies, the public, trade associations, unions and families. Finding a way to “play nice” with all of these competing influences and without sacrificing the duty to advocate for my client, has been my greatest challenge and biggest success.
Whether giving legal counsel or advising as a trusted business partner, in-house lawyers assist the business team with issues ranging from accidents, crisis management and work place safety to multi-million dollar contracts and employee harassment. Unlike my peers, the depth and breadth of my knowledge must be a football field wide and only about a foot deep, rather than the subject matter expertise that many of my peers have perfected or are perfecting. In-house lawyers thrive in the controlled chaos of the everyday business environment. The business needs can change in an instant and we, in-house lawyers, have to be swift in our reaction and responses, without sacrificing clarity. Good planning and preparation prior to the inevitable changes is what helps make a good in-house lawyer great.
Throughout my career, I have seen and been involved in various project and business scenarios. Many of the projects have produced successful, rewarding results. In construction and engineering, success is often measured by completing a safe, on time and on budget (or under budget as our owners always want) project. There are hundreds of metrics to use to measure construction and engineering success, such as lessons learned sessions and process improvement, budget targets, Lean methods, ISO, etc… For me personally, the metrics are harder to measure but easier to see. Was my involvement helpful to the project? Did my advice and support create a more effective team? Is the business and our players better for the next project or bid? Did we play nice with others?
Anyone can go to law school. Anyone can do legal work. At the end of each day, my goal is to help my client and those that work with me to create and build a better team and work environment. Starting with good rules to work by will set you down the path for success.