How to face the 'new normal'
How can rule-driven and change-resistant lawyers do more with less? Pippa Blakemore reviews Pearson GC Bjarne Tellmann's tips
Building an Outstanding Legal Team is much more than a ‘must read’, it’s a ‘must-keep-on-your-desk-as-a-constant-source-of-reference’ for general counsel, their legal advisers in private practice, and any legal department leader.
The book is like a volcano of hot topics, with the lava of practical solutions to the challenges facing in-house legal teams tumbling down and solidifying in the pages of this book. The book is solution-focused, with gems of practical advice sparking from the pages.
Bjarne P Tellmann, general counsel and chief legal officer of Pearson plc and a member of its executive committee, leads a legal team of 170 people across six continents. He is, therefore, uniquely placed to give perceptive solutions to the internal legal and organisational challenges confronting general counsel, which is the focus of the book, rather than ‘how to be a top-notch general counsel in the substantive sense’. This is like strengthening the core for an elite athlete, which is essential to perform at the highest level.
Tellmann states that ‘the general counsel’s role has become one of the most complex, intense and challenging in the corporate world,’ and that ‘today’s general counsel must effectively become her own chief executive’. He highlights the pressures from the ‘volatile and complex environment’, including ‘globalisation, regulatory expansion, and risk convergence’ combined with internal resource cutting and exponential internal demands on legal services. This means that ‘GCs must do more with less’, making this book an essential aid in the creation of a ‘framework that is resilient and adaptable to change’.
Corporate culture is a nebulous concept – ‘a score of unwritten assumptions that form the basis for day-to-day interactions within the organisation’. It is so powerful, however, that ‘culture is the medium that makes or breaks your talent’. The cultural analysis here is hugely enlightening and perceptive, and gives practical tips including a five-step approach to cultural hacking.
An outstanding legal team requires inspired leadership, appropriate recruitment, strong partnerships, astute risk assessment, and skilled resource management. This book gives comprehensive, succinct, and specific advice on all these, including ten skills of leadership; nine tips on ‘how to attract millennials’; and the three golden rules of risk.
Deft resource management is essential, because general counsels are under pressure to deliver ‘optimal service at maximum efficiency at the lowest reasonable cost’. Conducting a panel review and the KPI checklist for evaluating law firms demonstrates why this is such a useful book for those advising general counsel, as well as general counsel themselves. It is a clear statement of what matters to in-house teams and so will enable private practice lawyers to deliver the required service to meet expectations.
The idea that ‘change is the natural state of being’ is the magma flowing through the book. Tellmann modestly claims that his chapter on change management is ‘just a primer’: in reality, this chapter is a fundamental foundation for all outstanding teams. He recognises that ‘lawyers are often the most change-resistant of professionals’. As a general counsel himself, he can, therefore, understand that they are ‘by nature… risk-averse, rule-driven creatures, raised on precedent’. The ten key lessons on managing change include some superb advice. For example, Tellman suggests readers never look back as ‘looking back is an exercise in bitterness compounded by myopia’, and concludes on change:
‘This is the new normal’. This book is for all lawyers who face the new normal. Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel by Bjarne P Tellmann is published by Globe Law and Business Ltd
Pippa Blakemore is strategic business partner at The PEP Partnership