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Establishing New Culture in Legal Departments: Summary of Article

General Counsel (GCs) are in an unique position to transform culture. By taking on four types of leadership roles, GCs can become cultural leaders, creating a strong departmental culture, which disseminates throughout an entire organization. The below is a summary of an article by Lisa Birkenbach and So-Ang Park, originally published by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Most companies recognize the need to establish an appealing, modern culture if they want to attract and retain talent. Legal departments are in an unique position to drive and promote an organization’s culture. Therefore, General Counsels (GCs) should add new competencies to their skillset, acting as forward-thinking culture leaders, who help to define cultural purpose and identity. With links to all parts of the business, legal departments can spread desired values throughout  whole organizations and drive culture. It therefore makes sense for GCs to create a strong sense of cohesion and identity within the legal department to disseminate an aligned purpose and set of values. 

A four-role approach to become cultural leaders

Precisely how should GCs act in order to excel in their position as culture leaders? Inspired by the social identity theory of leadership, we believe that GCs need to take on four types of leadership roles to create and maintain a strong departmental culture. The first step is to become culture sensors. For this, GCs need to understand what it means to be a member of the legal department, what is important to the team and what the team wants to stand for. Then, they need to align this with the organization’s goals and purpose. The second step is to act as a culture role model and embody what the department wants to stand for. In other words, GCs need to walk the talk. Thirdly, GCs should be culture enablers. Here, it’s important for GCs to establish rituals, processes, and structures to let the department experience its desired culture. Finally, GCs need to act as culture advocates. In this role, GCs should champion and promote their department’s cultural interests and beliefs. They should also be prepared to stand up for these beliefs, if necessary. Law firms are gradually waking up to the need for cultural transformation. And if they act correctly, GCs can play a pivotal role in developing a modern, inclusive, and supportive culture in the increasingly competitive war for talent.

The original article was published by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

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