There are an amazing number of issues, trends, and headaches to keep track of as in-house counsel. So much, that it can be difficult to know what to focus on. When I was General Counsel I made time each year to step back and try to take a look at the big picture, i.e., given everything going on in the world, what should I and my department be spending time on right now? Certainly, I wanted to make sure things that were important to the goals of business where high on our list. But I also wanted to “benchmark” my team and make sure we were aware of what other legal departments were doing. I would gather information from many different sources and then come up with my own list of current essential “issues/best practices” that I thought we needed to focus on. Generally, my list contained items dealing with risk reduction, technology needs, management practices, key analytics, and ways to enhance the value of the department to the business.
Though I have not been GC for a little while, I keep my eyes and ears open to what’s going on in the world and how might it affect in-house lawyers. I thought I would highlight some of the important things I see out there right now — things that should be on every in-house lawyer’s “watch list.” This edition of “Ten Things” discusses the essential items I would be focused on right now if I were running a legal department in 2017:
I know I took an Accounting 101 class in college. But, I remember very little about it other than I somehow managed to pull a “B” in it and something about the “accounting equation.” When I got to law school, there was no math (unless you count student loans). Even when I began working at a law firm, there was some need for basic accounting and finance, but certainly nothing I worried about on a day-to-day basis. Then I went in-house and things changed. Accounting and finance are the language of business and if you don’t speak the language, then you’re just another tourist in ill-fitting shorts, t-shirt, and [insert sports team name] baseball cap. By “tourist” I mean that you’re not likely to stay very long if you don’t speak the language and the language of business is numbers. After a few meetings where “EBITDA” and “CAGR” flew over my head, I knew I needed to buckle down and start figuring out what all this number stuff was about. Over time, I got to the point where I could at least follow along at meetings when the Finance folks pulled out the spreadsheets.
Over the years I kept a notebook of key financial terms, formulas, resources, and other information I think are key to being a successful (and valuable) in-house attorney. None of this will make you an expert but, hopefully, I can give you some basics to focus on and help you navigate the most common issues. This edition of “Ten Things” focuses on ten things you need to know about basic finance: