10 Critical Skills for Corporate Legal Department Management Professionals

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Editor’s note: This is still one of our most popular blogs – and for good reason. Now, more than ever corporate legal departments (often seen as cost centers in companies) need business savvy and soft skills to help navigate our industry. Professionals need a good, holistic understanding of the rest of the company – and those their biggest critics and supporters. So, enjoy! (March 23, 2017; Emily Burdeshaw)



In thinking back on my own corporate legal department experience with AT&T and Bell Atlantic, and understanding today’s corporate legal department business environment, I have established a list of 10 critical skills that corporate legal department management professionals must have to be successful in their roles today. These 10 critical skills (with a few comments on each) include the management of:

  1. Internal clients and key stakeholders – Each department inside the corporation is an internal client and/or stakeholder, depending on the issues and necessary working relationships that must be managed. In addition, there are a number of external stakeholders that departments must deal with, including government officials and regulatory bodies.
  2. People, process and technologyNot to over use this phrase, but corporate legal departments must manage people inside and outside the corporate walls, several key legal and business processes, and technology to achieve key business objectives.
  3. Information and data – Whether in litigation or business, whoever controls the information runs the show. And in this era of (very) big data, corporate legal departments must have access to timely and relevant information from multiple sources to make the right business and legal decisions.
  4. Strategic business relationships with service providers – From law firms to eDiscovery providers, the ability to develop, manage and continually evaluate key business relationships is critical to the success of corporate legal departments.
  5. Budgets, metrics and reports – As a business unit, corporate legal departments must have budgets, metrics and reports to achieve key business objectives including cost certainty, budget predictability, cost savings and ROI in their spending. Thus, the importance of an ongoing Legal Matter Spend Analysis (LMSA) program.
  6. Projects – Like an air traffic control system with several planes flying at the same time, corporate legal departments must manage a series of multiple projects on any given day; some of these projects can stay in the air for some time while others must be landed safely without crashing and burning. So much of what corporate legal departments manage is project driven.
  7. Contract staffing– To effectively manage workflow peaks and valleys without necessarily adding to head count, contract staffing allows the department to leverage human capital without major disruptions.
  8. Strategic planning – Like any business unit, corporate legal departments must have a strategic planning process in place to develop, track and update goals and objectives on a regular basis.
  9. Marketing and public relations – Yes, marketing and public relations! There are two pieces of the puzzle. First, like any business unit, corporate legal departments must engage in a certain level of marketing to their internal clients and stakeholders. Second, corporate legal departments must help craft key messages to respond to bad news, crisis situations and critical issues. Thus, public relations skills must be brought to the table.
  10. Globalization – It is simply a matter of fact that many corporate legal departments must effectively manage multi-jurisdictional, multilingual, and multicultural legal and business matters around the globe. Conducting business is no longer restricted to the geographic boundaries of the United States.

Corporate legal departments touch many aspects of business. Those in management positions must possess a wide variety of critical skills. Thus, corporate legal department management professionals must continually enhance their legal, management, business, industry, technology and soft skills; or what I refer to as LMBITS skills.

In my next post, I will talk about some specific methods to improve LMBITS skills.

Posted by Joe Kanka, Vice President, Corporate Development, eTERA Consulting. Joe can be reached at marketing@eteraconsulting.com.

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