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Out of the Silos: The Crucial Role of In-House Counsel in Cross-Functional Business Collaboration

This post is written by Krista Russell. Krista is Deputy GC at Airbus and adjunct professor at Miami School of Law, is a versatile legal professional with a knack for turning complexity into clarity. With a rich background in contract management, she brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Her passion for law, coupled with her ability to adapt and learn, makes her a visionary leader, constantly driving forward with a playful sense of humor and a data-driven approach. The following blog encapsulates Krista's thoughts on the importance of working cross-functionally as a legal professional. 

In the realm of corporate dynamics, the traditional silos that once separated legal from other departments are gradually dissolving, giving way to a more collaborative and integrated approach. As in-house counsel for nearly 15 years, I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Thank goodness there is some change!”

Early in my career, I discovered that success as an in-house counsel extends beyond legal acumen. It’s a basic requirement, much like a contract must have a bargained-for exchange. To achieve success in-house, and let’s be real here - success in-house is about impact and results - it's about fostering meaningful connections across various departments, cultivating a personal brand that goes beyond legal jargon, and ultimately being the catalyst for getting deals done. This realization transformed my approach, propelling me from a legal expert to a strategic partner in and for the business.

The key to breaking free from silos lies in building relationships and understanding the intricacies of each department. It's not enough to be confined to the legal bubble; we must immerse ourselves in the language of the business. In my personal journey, I found that my legal background became a powerful asset, enabling me to bridge the gap between legal complexities and practical business needs.

One of the pivotal aspects of this shift was building a personal brand centered around being a problem-solver and deal facilitator rather than just a legal advisor. This involved stepping into the shoes of my colleagues in marketing, finance, engineering, and operations to comprehend their challenges and objectives. By doing so, I could tailor my legal advice to align seamlessly with the broader business strategy.

In a traditional law firm, success is often measured by the mastery of legal intricacies. However, as an in-house counsel operating in a cross-functional landscape, personal professional success is defined by the ability to bring people together, align diverse perspectives, and drive collaborative solutions. My personal brand evolved from being a person “who knows the law” to the one who “finds the way to ‘yes’" while mitigating legal risks.

Collaboration is not just a buzzword; it's a mindset that shapes the culture of the entire organization. As in-house counsel, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of cross-functional collaboration on achieving business objectives. By actively participating in strategic discussions, offering insights beyond legal considerations, and understanding the nuances of different departments, I became an integral part of the decision-making process.

My success story, to the extent it may be considered so, isn't about legal victories; it's about being viewed as an indispensable contributor to the company's overall success. It's about having a seat at the table, not just as the legal expert but as someone who understands the business intimately. It’s about your business colleagues' mindset shifting to “I really want to run this by my legal business partner” rather than “I have to get legal approval.” The transition from a lawyer who knows about the business to a business person with a legal background has been instrumental in my professional journey.

In conclusion, the role of in-house counsel is evolving, and the ability to work cross-functionally is no longer an option but a necessity. Embrace the challenge, build your personal brand as a deal facilitator and problem-solver, and redefine success in the context of collaborative business achievements. Beyond silos, lies a realm of possibilities where in-house counsel becomes a driving force in steering the company towards its objectives. It's not just a shift in perspective; it's a revolution in the way we contribute to the business landscape.

Interested in seeing how legal technology can help break down silos in your company? Find out more here.