As many of you know, Greg Murphy served as Chair of our Litigation Practice Group from 2002-2010 and served on the Firm's Management Committee from 2000-2010. Greg left the firm to become the first General Counsel at Nucor Corporation and he has been kind enough to take some time away to share his perspective on professional success, best practices, and relationship building.
Q: What are three keys to your professional success?
A: The number one contributor is the people around me who made me better. Many people (family, teachers and colleagues alike) showed interest, encouragement and offered constructive advice along the way. I am confident my career would have been different without them.
The second factor is a natural sense of curiosity. A diverse legal practice makes for a highly interesting legal practice.
Finally, I have a deep competitive drive to improve. I am not entirely sure where this came from but it has always been a key aspect of my success.
Q: What recommendations do you have for managing outside counsel that are often times more senior than the in-house lawyers tasked with managing them?
A: Regardless of seniority, I believe the key to any positive in-house/outside counsel relationship is clear communication and setting expectations. This is a shared responsibility. It is not the job of the outside lawyer to guess or divine what the client wants or needs. It is the client’s responsibility to set clear goals and objectives and to give context to the work. And if the inside counsel does not do this, the outside lawyer should probe until this is clear.
This common disconnect can sometimes be amplified when the in-house lawyer is less experienced and is working with a more seasoned outside counsel. The more senior lawyer can offer alternative approaches or options – but in the end, it is the client’s responsibility to make decisions and provide the ultimate directions. And if this is done well, the outside lawyer and the client will enjoy a trusting relationship for years to come.
Q: What are some best practices for junior lawyers looking to stand out and move up in a crowded legal department?
A: At Nucor we do not have a crowded legal department, but the advice would be the same, regardless of the size of the department. First, have ownership over everything you do. Just because you have outside resources to help you, does not mean that you should not be fully vested in the process and the outcome. Second, be responsive to your internal clients and to your outside lawyers. Answer your phone, return calls as promptly as possible and respond to e-mails. Our profession is based on service and you should strive to provide better service than your peers. Third, never go through the motions. Use your knowledge of the organization to find better ways to solve problems. Good lawyers are ultimately good problem solvers. And if by thinking creatively and understanding your organization better you can make fundamental change, then that is what you should be doing. Finally, never take for granted those who have helped you on your journey. Be generous with praise when it is warranted.
Q: How do legal, compliance, and risk interact at your company and how do you see that changing in the next 5-10 years?
A: The general counsel role – especially in a lean organizational structure – is all about all three functions. Our job is to effectively and responsibly manage risk and to comply with laws and regulations. In many highly regulated industries, compliance has become a separate function from legal and risk management. While I understand and appreciate the need for that in heavily regulated organizations, I believe a general counsel needs to be informed and fully invested in all three areas.
The world is becoming more “compliance-centric”. Events like the financial crisis accelerated this phenomenon. But I am not entirely convinced that some of the laws and regulations have done much to truly make the world safer or better for stakeholders. Much of it seems to be event-driven and not terribly flexible or practical. And in other cases, compliance rules are adopted to respond to extreme cases which are usually outliers.
Unfortunately, I do not see this changing in the near term. If anything, I see the trend accelerating. One example is in the area of data protection and privacy. The EU’s adoption of GDPR (shortly followed by California’s new data privacy regime) does not really address the root cause of the problem. But it undeniably has led to a lot of confusion, expense, and likely little practical benefit to most companies, shareholders and customers.
Q: At many firms, there has been a trend for bringing more legal work in-house and reducing the reliance on outside counsel. Is your company a part of this trend, and if so, what have been the benefits and challenges?
A: To an extent, all companies are doing some of this, and Nucor is no exception. But the degree to which it is occurring depends largely on the service model at each company and the internal resources available. I would say that the key is not whether to move the work inside or out, as much as it is determining where the work can be most efficiently and effectively done.
Good law firms recognize this and get out ahead of it. If they can identify large “buckets” of work that they can effectively manage on an outsourced basis, they offer to do just that. After all, from our vantage point, the key is that the work gets done and done well and in the most efficient manner. If a law firm can come up with a way to reduce workloads and at lower cost without the results suffering, then why would we not do that?
Other work is highly specialized. And it is not repetitive. Those are also the perfect opportunities for law firms to deliver those services, rather than trying to do it all in-house. Finally, certain work is so large or complex that legal departments need to leverage the outside resources. And that is usually the work that the law firms find most desirable anyway.
I think the biggest challenge facing all lawyers today is to adapt to an ever-changing world. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation will continue to evolve and make many tasks that we all did as younger lawyers a thing of the past. This creates opportunities for law departments and outside firms to collaborate and to find new ways to create value. But it may also cause disruption for those unwilling to adapt. There will always be a need for good lawyers. But the kinds of work they do will continue to evolve at an accelerated pace in the next ten years.