As in-house counsel, you have to be able to communicate to various stakeholders across the organization, and most of the time, they are not lawyers. While I have already written about losing the legalese to be a successful legal partner, here are some additional communication tips for your consideration.
People First, Lawyer Second
It is very tempting to jump right to problem-solving when you are the lawyer in the room — and problem-solving is why you were invited to the call or meeting in the first place, but in my experience, resisting the urge to be a lawyer, and instead being a person first, can help you be more effective by building credibility and relationships.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been brought into a situation where an employee discloses a domestic violence situation, and they are looking for company support. As a lawyer, you may want to jump right into solutions like additional security on the premises or contacting the authorities, but if you use the “first people” approach, you would want to ask the employee how they’re coping, acknowledging how scary the situation is and thanking them for coming forward before jumping into solutions.
Obviously, both approaches are fine. At the same time, leading with empathy first, while small, may have a profound impact on building trust.
(Re)Frame The Ask
Sometimes clients don’t know exactly what they need — they only know that they need to consult legal, and instead of giving you a single question, they may give you an accounting of random facts or a sticky situation with a general “help!” Or perhaps they have an ask, but it isn’t what they should be asking. What is helpful in either of these situations is to frame (or reframe) the ask and repeat it back to your client.
“So what I’m hearing is that you need help with X, is that right?”
“So if I’m understanding correctly, you’d like to get Y done, is that right?”
I even find this practice helpful with other lawyers, who often can’t help but turn a single legal question into a bar exam question and who want to flag every conceivable risk and run it into the ground. Framing the specific question at hand aloud in the meeting can help refocus everyone and narrow the scope of the problem.
Remember The Why
As a fan of Simon Sinek’s work, I am pretty much like an owl at work but replace “who” with the word “why.” Besides being annoying, I have found that it helps me understand my clients’ goals and objectives and better help them get there by giving me the opportunity to suggest a different way to achieve the goal. It is also a great tool for staying on track, guarding against scope creep and ensuring that you’re helping to solve a problem that exists in your organization.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.