All Over The Map-Thriving as a Geographically Dispersed Law Department

When Amazon.com announced it would split its new headquarters between Virginia and New York, it further diversified the geography of its corporate footprint. Having multiple locations away from a corporate headquarters is nothing new according to Corporate Counsel. In fact, “For many general counsel having a dispersed workforce and legal team is the new norm.”

As real estate costs skyrocket and tax incentives fluctuate, more and more legal departments face the challenges associated with managing a legal team made up of strangers who rarely see each other, and who may lack a consistent work culture.

The struggle to create a sense of connectedness among a regionally fragmented legal team might seem like a prescription for failure. Not so, according to Sterling Miller, author of Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel: Practical Advice and Successful Strategies (ABA).

In a recent Ten Things blog, Miller shared the benefits of a dispersed legal department. “Just like diversity in the workplace improves the company’s products and services, a legal department with members located in different places brings together multiple viewpoints, fresh legal analysis, different biases, and new work styles.”

Of course, there are also significant challenges associated with a spread-out law department. In his blog, Miller offers ten practical ways to overcome these geographic challenges, three of which are summarized below-

  1. Offer frequent constructive feedback and rewards– Overcommunicate expectations. Keep them consistent across locations, and reward accomplishments in a fair and consistent manner.
  2. Find ways to promote team bonding and create community. Plan in-person meetings as often as feasible, and use tech tools like interactive whiteboards and messaging threads to keep everyone involved and up to date.
  3. Communicate big picture goals and ask for feedback– Include cultural expectations and specific parameters for how team members should collaborate. Utilize short surveys to gauge how clients and colleagues think things are going.

By V.L. Brunskill

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