Courtney V. Welton, Global General Counsel at Lenovo Mobile Business Group, discussed the legal function and the evolving role of legal departments during her keynote presentation to Argyle's CLO membership at the 2017 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in Chicago on November 30. In her presentation, Welton offered tips to help legal departments redefine themselves as more than cost centers.
According to Welton, today's legal departments must understand how to brand themselves effectively. Failure to do so may cause a legal department to miss out on opportunities to contribute to its respective organization.
Ultimately, how business professionals view a legal department can have far-flung effects on an organization. If organizations see a legal department as an obstacle, they'll do everything to avoid collaborating with them.
Welton said, "Perception is reality ... Establishing a brand for your law department is as important as establishing a brand for a consumer company."
Although sometimes perceived as cost centers, a legal team can provide significant value to an organization.
A legal department that is open to collaboration can deliver long-lasting value to an organization. They'll work with all departments and show that it can maximize the time and resources at its disposal.
"We are really being pressed from a cost and financial perspective to give more with less," Welton stated. "When we think about who is the audience that cares about our brand, it truly is the businesspeople."
To change its perception within an organization, a legal department must take a business-first approach to its everyday operations.
"Establishing a brand for your law department is as important as establishing a brand for a consumer company."
A legal department that operates with a business-first approach will understand its target audience. That way, the department can find ways to help an organization thrive.
"You need to act, talk and work like businesspeople first and lawyers second," Welton noted. "Stop and think about the audience. The audience wants to hear what you have to say in their terms and in their way."
Furthermore, a legal department that embraces technology may be able to find unique ways to streamline its day-to-day operations.
"We're still operating decades behind where we could be from a technology standpoint, a financial fluency standpoint and from how we work with our clients," Welton indicated.
A legal department must be willing to adapt and evolve to a rapidly changing global marketplace.
If a legal department accepts its role within an organization, it can find ways to deliver consistent results and support.
"If your goal is to move from a cost center to a value center, you really need to understand where you currently sit and be honest with your teams about how you're viewed and your current approach," Welton pointed out.
Although a legal department must be flexible, it is paramount for this department to continue to provide legal aid to minimize risk.
"You need to act, talk and work like businesspeople first and lawyers second."
Business professionals frequently search for ways to speed up the decision-making process within an organization. Meanwhile, a legal department must be able to provide legal guidance to these professionals and ensure they can make informed decisions to eliminate risk.
"Executives are actually making conscious decisions to disregard or remain willfully blind to what the legal issues are," Welton said. "And the lawyers are looked at as obstacles."
A legal department also should be willing to embrace innovation.
If a legal department explores ways to innovate and grow, it may be able to discover new ways to create value within its organization. This department may find that business professionals are more willing than ever before to reach out for legal support as well.
"Companies need to start to realize that law departments can create tangible, viable value," Welton noted. "Lawyers need to become strategic business partners and become trusted advisors. They also become more entrepreneurial."
Legal departments are expected to help organizations achieve the best-possible results as quickly as possible. Transforming the perception of the legal department within an organization enables a legal team to break down barriers between itself and other departments. Perhaps most important, a legal department can become a trusted advisor and contributor within an organization and provide substantial value both now and in the future.
Courtney VanLonkhuyzen Welton as Global General Counsel leads legal matters across Lenovo’s Mobile Business Group in North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and EMEA. Previously, she led commercial legal teams for Motorola, Google and Lenovo focused on relationships with key suppliers and channel partners. Courtney was also instrumental in re-launching Lenovo’s philanthropic Foundation.
Prior to joining the company, Courtney clerked for the Honorable David W. McKeague on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, litigated global disputes at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and led a for-profit large health care facility. She also recently served on the board of directors for a successful software company. Courtney received her B.A. from Hope College, and her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law, where she served on the executive board of the NU Law Review. Courtney is based in Chicago and serves on the board of the Chicago Foundation for Women.