As the old saying does, “If your general counsel isn’t happy, no one is happy.”

OK, so maybe that’s not a saying, but there’s no doubt that the expertise of the in-house lawyer is indispensible, and a strong partnership with these colleagues can have broad implications on the success of your organization.

As ABA TECHSHOW 2016 rounds-out its second day, Ed Friedland, general counsel with Thomson Reuters Legal business, will moderate a panel, “Communication is Key to a Happy GC.”

We caught up with Ed to get a preview of the panel.


 

Legal Current: Your panel is called “Communication is Key to a Happy GC” – tell us a bit about what that means in your career as a GC?

Ed Friedland: I couldn’t agree more with the name of the session.

On most days, I spend part of my day in the role of communications coordinator. No one likes surprises, and that is particularly true for legal matters. Our business colleagues are not always eager to hear from the lawyers, but that is not an excuse for silence.  I am continually calibrating how to inform stakeholders about the matters on our radar screen. Is this something that can be captured on email? Or is a phone call or in person meeting preferred? If I talk to X, do Y and Z need to know, and so on.

Communication may not be part of the law school curriculum, but it’s critical to effectiveness in the Law Department.

LC: So if “communication” is the key to making a GC happy, what’s the best way to get on their “bad side,” and how should that be avoided?

EF: Don’t make your problem my problem.

I am happy to discuss any issue on your plate, but come to the party with a possible solution… or even more than one. Nine out of ten times, I will be delighted that you have taken ownership of the matter and will defer to your judgment. Also, the matter you are living with may be something I haven’t thought about in a month, or more. So set the context for the discussion or email, even though the issue is top of mind for you.

LC: How has technology helped, or hurt, the day-to-day work of a GC? Is there any specific aspect of the job that you miss because technology has served that role?

EF: While this is not unique to GC roles, technology has untethered us from the office. We carry our desktops and libraries with us wherever we go. While some long for the time when we could draw a bright line between work and home, I enjoy the flexibility that mobile technology affords. If I have to take a conference call from a mountaintop, I would choose that over a desperate search for a land line. Now, this requires one to be thoughtful of tech’s impact on the work/life balance, but that has always been the case.

LC: You’ve spent much of your career as a GC – what are some lessons you learned early in your career that many up-and-coming in-house counsel may overlook in today’s business environment?

EF: Great question. Law school students are evaluated on their legal acumen and raw legal skills. In an in-house environment, those skills are table stakes. They may get you in door, but after that you will be judged on an entirely differently set of skills. In-house lawyers are increasingly expected to speak the language of business. Your facility with project management, people management, technology, financial literacy, and skills of communication and influencing will always trump your drafting ability or your legal analysis.


 

For more, stop by the Astoria Room from 3:45 to see “Communication is Key to a Happy GC.”