The GC’s Role—Broader than Just Counsel
We asked Tammy Brandt, VP & General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of ServiceMesh, Inc. about the strategies she has found to be most effective for General Counsels overseeing multiple departments and ways to overcome the obstacles that come up when juggling the roles of boss and lawyer.
As General Counsel who oversees multiple departments, do you think this is beneficial to your understanding of the organization?
I think it is beneficial. By being exposed to different departments and managing non-lawyers, it allows me to really understand the business and enables me to better manage risk throughout the company.
How do you manage to oversee each department properly?
The key to strong management is to work with a strong team, and I am fortunate to manage very bright and effective people. Setting key expectations and goals and having frequent check-ins allows everyone to stay on track and for me to make sure the necessary things are being accomplished.
What best practices have you learned from overseeing more than one department?
It is critical to understand what the departments you are managing are doing and what common problems arise. Lawyers are not trained to understand operations, and managing departments outside of the legal department requires immersion in the business and a true understanding of the non-legal issues that come up.
What are some suggestions you would give to other general counsels who have to “play” multiple roles?
- When given an opportunity to expand your skill set beyond legal, take it. While it might be intimidating at first, in the long run it will make you a better lawyer and a more well-rounded executive.
- Understand that managing non-lawyers is very different than managing lawyers. Be compassionate to the issues that they encounter and understand that people are at different stages of their careers and it is common for more oversight to be needed when managing non-legal personnel.
- Do whatever you can to understand the business so that you can provide the highest and best value to the company in your legal role and whatever other roles you might currently have or be asked to fill in the future.
How do you separate yourself from being a "lawyer" and being a "boss?"
The key to being an effective lawyer or boss is being approachable, pragmatic and willing to go “out of the box” when necessary. The best leaders I have worked for are those that want to develop those that report to them and who truly are interested in the career growth of those that work for them, so that is the type of boss I try to be.