Catherine Muldoon, Chief Legal Officer, BDP International, discussed the process of going from the role of chief legal officer to trusted business advisor in her keynote presentation to Argyle’s CLO membership at the 2017 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in New York on March 15. In her presentation, “Making the CLO Leap from Legal Expert to Trusted Business Advisor,” Muldoon described her journey from serving as a legal expert to becoming a key contributor to a business’ day-to-day strategy.
According to Muldoon, it is easy for lawyers to encounter pitfalls as they strive to become key contributors within an organization. Fortunately, there are many ways that lawyers can build the skills and expertise needed to foster partnerships with C-suite executives and serve as trusted business advisors within their respective organizations.
Muldoon pointed out lawyers commonly serve as legal experts but can strive for additional responsibility. By doing so, lawyers may be able to showcase their true value within their respective organizations.
“Your seat at the table discussing business strategy with executives can become even more rewarding and more influential when you become a trusted business advisor,” Muldoon noted. “You play a more vital role than solely providing legal advice.”
Moreover, lawyers commonly use legal terms and jargon that can confuse employees at all levels of an organization. But lawyers who develop strong interpersonal skills will be able to communicate effectively with C-suite executives and entry-level employees alike.
“Legalese has no place in today’s business world,” Muldoon stated. “Executives and business stakeholders demand transparency, plain language and credibility. That indeed builds trust.”
Communication can make or break a lawyer as he or she searches for ways to climb the corporate ladder.
“Nothing is as great an obstacle to personal growth than having a poor grasp of your personal shortcomings.”
A lawyer who understands how to communicate with others can improve his or her chances of making a positive first impression on peers. Conversely, a lawyer who lacks consistent communication skills will struggle to build long-lasting partnerships.
“How effectively you communicate often dictates the first impression you make and frequently defines your ultimate success,” Muldoon pointed out.
Most lawyers possess comprehensive educational backgrounds and can identify legal hurdles before they escalate. On the other hand, the majority of lawyers struggle with emotional intelligence and lack self-awareness.
To become a trusted business advisor, a lawyer must develop the ideal combination of professional and emotional intelligence. That way, this lawyer will be able to collaborate with diverse groups of employees and executives and get the best results possible.
“As lawyers, we certainly have the IQ component down,” Muldoon said. “Emotional intelligence isn’t just the stuff of psychology books. If you want to step up to the level of being a leader among leaders, you need business executives to follow you.”
Ultimately, becoming a trusted business advisor won’t happen overnight. A lawyer must be willing to allocate the time and resources to enhance his or her skill set and realize that there may be challenges along the way.
“It takes both a personal and professional journey to get you to the next step,” Muldoon indicated. “A prerequisite of that success is having an accurate picture of yourself.”
With the right approach, a lawyer will be able to provide valuable contributions to a business strategy.
“How effectively you communicate often dictates the first impression you make and frequently defines your ultimate success.”
As a trusted business advisor, this lawyer will be able to share his or her views on myriad business topics, along with provide feedback to assist C-suite executives.
“I am engaged in every aspect of our business, sometimes supporting and sometimes leading, but always shoulder to shoulder with each of our C-level executives,” Muldoon stated.
A lawyer must be able to embrace his or her personal shortcomings as well.
There is always room for improvement, and a lawyer may use an executive coach to discover innovative ways to transform personal weaknesses into strengths.
“Nothing is as great an obstacle to personal growth than having a poor grasp of your personal shortcomings,” Muldoon noted.
How a lawyer networks with others may dictate his or her success.
A lawyer must understand how to collaborate with others, listen to concerns and questions and respond accordingly. He or she must be willing to step outside of a comfort zone to build relationships with multiple departments too.
Furthermore, a lawyer who is committed to learning new skills can provide important contributions in many business areas. This lawyer also can show others that he or she is willing to do whatever it takes to help an organization achieve its immediate and long-term goals.
“For lawyers, as we move into business roles, the value of networking and building business relationships can’t be underestimated,” Muldoon pointed out. “It’s how we learn and grow as professionals.”
In 2002, Catherine Muldoon joined BDP International, Inc. (“BDP”), a global logistics company with offices in over 114 countries, as General Counsel, US. In January of 2004, Catherine was named Chief Legal Officer. In this role, Catherine is head of BDP’s global legal department with direct responsibility for all legal and contractual considerations associated with all mergers and acquisitions, joint venture and business partner arrangements, tax planning, corporate structuring and strategy, business services, personnel, intellectual property, banking relations, and real estate. She is also responsible for managing litigation. Catherine manages corporate governance and risk management programs within BDP, ensuring that best practices are identified to the Board of Directors and implemented by the business units.
In her tenure, which has been marked with an aggressive growth and integration strategy, Catherine represented BDP in 26 acquisitions most of which were cross border. Catherine authored and manages BDP’s Code of Conduct, including the anti-trust, anti-bribery, and various other legal and ethical compliance policies within BDP. Catherine is responsible for creating product offerings to BDP clients associated with the UN Working Group, foreign tax credit and REACH. She also sits on the Board of Directors of G2Link. Catherine is a professor at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law. Catherine was also recently recognized by the Association of Corporate Counsel as “Best Chief Legal Officer.”
Catherine earned a Bachelor of Arts from The Johns Hopkins University and a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law. She was named one of five finalist for ACC’s Outstanding Chief Legal Officer award in 2010. Catherine was Chair of Corporate Counsel Forum of the International Bar Association 2011-2013, a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel, The Forum of Executive Women, and National Association of Professional Women. Catherine is also responsible for creating BDP’s Women’s Networking Group and BDP’s Legal Webinar Series. Catherine speaks regularly on cross border M&A activity, corporate governance and anticorruption within global organizations and has published articles in the ACC Docket and Forefront Magazine. In 2014, Catherine was awarded “Best Chief Legal Officer” in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Catherine was also recognized by the Ethisphere Institute as one of the 2015 and 2016 Attorneys Who Matter.