How do you work with the Legal Department? Do you have a good relationship?  If so, why and how?  That’s this week’s question.  This is the third in a series we’re running here at Compliance Kristy about how we can work successfully with several functions: Internal Audit, Human Resources, Legal, Management and Procurement.  Along the way, I’m asking YOU, the experts, about how you successfully work with each function.  I’ll be taking your answers (anonymously of course) and putting them into my presentation at the SCCE Conference in Las Vegas.  (for more information on this fabulous conference, click HERE)

We’ll start this off with the survey, which has only two questions: 1. How do you work with your Legal Department – who is in charge of what?  And 2. Do you have a good relationship?  To answer, please click HERE

As for me?  Following please find Four Wildly Successful ways I’ve found to work with Legal.

1.      Carefully Delineate Your Responsibilities

You’ve just received a notice of a potential competition violation or a data breach.  Who is in charge, Compliance or Legal?  Deciding these types of questions before they become an issue can be incredibly helpful.  In one company in which I worked, if there were a regulatory investigation or outside competition inquiry, then the Legal Department handled it.  If there were an internal competition complaint or concern, Compliance handled it.  This delineation allowed for easy assignment of tasks when an issue came up. 

One company I work with separates contract processing as follows:  Legal is primarily in charge of contract drafting, negotiation and review; and Compliance handls any anti-bribery, modern slavery or sanctions-related clauses, as well as any supplier codes of conducts.  Legal relies on approval from Compliance for these specific clauses and supplier code reviews, and Compliance doesn’t interfere with the rest of the contracting process. 

Talk to Legal about all of the areas they handle.  If your company’s Compliance Department is new, there may be reluctance by the Legal Department to hand off responsibility.  After all, Legal has almost certainly been entirely in charge of legal and compliance issues before Compliance came to the company.  Try to be understanding but firm in creating delineated responsibilities so that you can work together effectively.

2.      Seek Out Legal’s Advice and Ask for Help

I’ve been a lawyer for nearly 10 years, and one thing I know for sure is that almost all lawyers like to feel respected and valued for their wisdom and knowledge.  If you have questions or simply want a second opinion, make a habit of consulting the Legal Department.  By coming to them for advice, counsel or a second opinion, you’ll be showing them respect and appreciation.  Legal is much more likely to respect your position if you show them you respect theirs. 

One of my consulting clients was looking to proactively formalize a plan for data breach response.  It was decided that Compliance would decide when and how to notify regulators and customers if there were a breach, and Legal would perform the contract review to determine contractual obligations.  For instance, let’s say four individuals from three corporate customers were affected by a breach.  The lawyers in Legal would review the contracts to determine whether there was a specific timeframe within which the company needed to be notified, or a specific person who was to be contacted. 

Asking for help is important, but it must be done judiciously, especially if your Legal department is busy.  Be careful, but ask for help when you need it.

3.      Acknowledge the Trouble that Can Occur if You’re an Attorney

If you are a practicing attorney, understand that for many in the Legal Department, there will be confusion about what you do in Compliance.  Does your work invoke privilege?  Sometimes but not always?  Why is it your job to protect the company by building an ethical culture and considering what’s right, when the Legal Department’s mandate is to help the company find the lines of what it can get away with.  Attorneys may be threatened or not understand how Compliance is different from Legal.  Acknowledge and anticipate this disconnect so that you can work to educate your counter-parts.

4.      Acknowledge the Trouble that Can Occur if You’re Not a Practicing Attorney

If you’re not a practicing attorney, understand that the lawyers in the Legal Department may not understand why you’ve been given such a broad mandate over important work without the ability to invoke privilege directly or to concern yourself with the law in the same way the lawyers do.  Acknowledge and anticipate that this issue, and show the Legal team that you’re willing to seek their assistance and advice with respect to tricky issues and problems that might need to be dealt with under privilege.

How else have YOU found to work effectively with Legal?  What is Legal in charge of in your company, and what is managed by compliance?  Share your answers with me and the fellow participants at the SCCE conference HERE.   Looking forward to seeing you soon!