The 2018 Annual CLOC Institute recently concluded and there were many takeaways and conversations over the course of four days. I was fortunate to co-moderate, along with Susan Lambreth, principal at Law Vision, an engaging conversation with Mark Chandler, general counsel for Cisco Systems.

The session opened with CLOC Board Member Jeff Franke detailing the evolution of the legal department, which he broke down into four eras:

  • Pre-1980: General counsel as a risk manager
  • 1980-2000: General counsel as a business partner
  • 2000-2010: General counsel as a trusted advisor
  • 2010-today: General counsel critical to achieving and maintaining a competitive advantage

As Jeff walked through each of these, it provided good context for our discussion with Mark about the changes legal departments have gone through and how he has formed Cisco’s legal department to serve in a strategic role for the company.

Addressing the crowd of legal operations professionals, Mark noted that there have been three large-scale events that have resulted in many of the legal department changes, including the growing focus on legal operations. The first was the downturn in 2008 which pushed all companies to operate more efficiently, including more closely monitoring spend on legal services. Second, he noted that the technology and tools available to help legal departments operate more efficiently and effectively improved significantly. And third, the willingness of professionals to take on the risk to adjust their careers or apply their skills to newly created roles within legal operations groups.

Employee engagement has become a ubiquitous term in our business world, but Mark has been at the forefront of creating an environment of high employee engagement at Cisco. He stated that it is very important that each member of the team feels good about their time at work, and their contributions to the organization overall. Mark also noted that he aims to give people opportunities to grow, touching briefly on regular rotations, and making sure everyone feels rewarded. And we often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families, so having a team that enjoys their work and working together is a key component to success.

With the right team in place and engaged, Mark has positioned the Cisco Systems legal department in a position to serve the strategic needs of the organization and help drive the business forward. Mark said that the services provided must drive results and not just steward a process. He encouraged everyone to view their legal department not as a gatekeeper, but as a gateway to helping the business succeed. This particular point about being a gateway really resonated with me and is something that we should all always be keeping at the forefront of our minds.

Positioning his department to serve the business at the highest level, Mark asks himself, “What will the company look like in a few years?” and “Will what I am doing today be valuable for the company then?” He said there are challenges to keep moving forward with a key one being “natural human inertia,” or when people just like doing things a certain way. To meet the challenges, Mark encouraged testing of initiatives or ideas to demonstrate the benefits and advantages. Another route he shared was to “take the option out of the system,” forcing adoption.

To close, we asked how he keeps his large, global team aware of the competitive landscape and the company’s strategic direction, while maintaining the department’s high level of performance. He said that he communicates regularly with the team, including the use of videos – and I lightheartedly made sure to remind Mark that he uses Cisco’s TelePresence.

Mark shared some personal touches he employs to stay connected. He makes sure he carves out time to meet with his team when traveling to various locations – even when on vacation recently in Japan. He asks his leadership team and colleagues within the organization to pass along anything that impacts members of his team (awards, accomplishments, birthdays and even personal hardships) and Mark sends personal, handwritten notes to individuals.

Guidance we can all adhere to, and maybe the most important to building and maintaining a strong team, Mark said simply, “Put the effort in to know your people.”

 

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Chris Maguire, managing director of the U.S. Corporate Segment for the Legal business of Thomson Reuters.