managing a legal department

Ten Things: How to Manage People… and Lawyers

There are several things that I rarely, if ever, expect to hear in-house lawyers utter.  These include, “Hey, I’m really excited about that new ‘Rocky’ movie!” and “Is $1,500 an hour enough for that Big Law third-year associate?” or, my favorite, “This suit from Sears fits perfectly!” Right up there on the Mount Rushmore of “No One Said Ever” is this, “I really love managing people – it’s the best part of my day!”  Okay,  that may be stretching things a bit, but, in all seriousness, managing people in an in-house legal department (like anywhere) can be a… umm, taxing job (yeah, that’s the right word, taxing).  For sure, there are days when managing people – even lawyers – can be very rewarding and enjoyable.  The challenging part is figuring out how to make days like that the majority versus the minority.  This is difficult because – like many things I discovered post-law school – no one teaches or prepares in-house lawyers for managing people. There seems to be an assumption that if you are a good lawyer, you are automatically a good manager.  As you probably know by experience, that is not true.  Many great lawyers suck at managing people.  It is just not the way their brains are wired.  And when you put bad people managers in charge of people, it can be a disaster.  I have had the benefit of having many terrific managers, both in-house and in private practice.  And I have had a few duds.  I learned important lessons from both types in terms of how to manage people, i.e., things to do and things not to do. Regardless, if you want to get ahead in the in-house world, especially if you aspire to sit in the general counsel chair, then it’s something you will need to learn to do and do well.  This edition of “Ten Things” shares my experience with what works best when it comes to managing people in an in-house legal department: