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Leigh Dance has written, published and spoken extensively on many aspects of global legal services, at major global conferences and in business and legal industry publications worldwide, including The Wall Street Journal.  Click here for our extensive archive of past (we believe still insightful!) published articles.

Dance is author of Bright Ideas:  Insights from Legal Luminaries Worldwide, published by Mill City Press and available on Amazon.  Bright Ideas is a compilation of 23 original essays by leaders and influencers around the world.

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Use What's Left of 2016 to Manage Your Workload Better

If you work in the Western world, you likely just returned from vacation or will take your break soon. Here's some food for thought as you shift out of work mode or enter back into it, with the year nearly two-thirds over. In daily news worldwide—whether it's politics, economic forecasts or corporate crises—you'll find two elements: uncertainty and complexity. Uncertainty comes from political instability in much of the world, plus commodity price and currency fluctuation and questions about access to credit. As if that weren't complex enough, global in-house counsel wrestle with increasingly complicated business structures and products on top of ongoing regulatory and geographic complexity.

This year the uncertainty end of the scale tipped further out of balance. But you can't let uncertainty + complexity add up to more complexity. Like everyone else in your company, you, global in-house counsel, have to deal with it.

Here's a thought: Refuse to be bogged down by the complex. In the next four months of 2016, take action to make things more simple.

  • Great in-house legal functions make things simpler

Recently a pattern has become apparent to me, among global corporate legal teams that make true advances in performance and workload management. These teams are achieving innovations that enable them to work smarter in all sorts of ways; their results are remarkable. When you read into the details, what stands out to me is the simplicity of the approach—despite multijurisdictional application.

But, you say, isn't avoiding the complex risky? You might miss something really important. In compliance controls and forensics, you're right. But for global in-house legal workload management, complexity can work against you. Many global in-house leaders have succeeded as valued corporate contributors by using simple rules and basic principles, often guided by straightforward models.

  • Simplicity offers a path through uncertainty

High-performing, cost-effective global in-house teams today understand that improvement comes in steps. They create simple parameters and metrics that help bridge uncertainty. They communicate clearly and consistently to inspire everyone that it's worth it, that "we're getting there."

We see time and time again that corporate counsel often buckle under the weight of complex projects intended to work smarter. These projects work so hard to consider every detail that they get delayed until the team loses interest and the project is abandoned. Many global in-house professionals know better; I'm just catching on now.

  • Four ways to reduce the weight of complexity

Here are four basic ways to simplify your workload. Part 2 of this column will address how to structure uncertain issues to achieve more clarity and better advice (an important in-house skill). If these suggestions sound simple, good—give them a try. If they sound elementary, send me your suggestions, which I'd be glad to publish here.

  1. Demand that your team and your outside counsel present advice in an executive summary with an opening paragraph of less than 85 words, supported by a few formatted details. What are the one or two key issues for your company, given the situation and jurisdictions involved? What are key variables, and in what time frame can they be addressed? Ask for short sentences, no longer than two lines on a page. Require that the advice follows a template of your design. Encourage simple charts or infographics to illustrate the issue, rather than words.
  2. Put your in-house legal heads together and investigate the processes most cumbersome for your team. Organize small in-house groups for each of the two or three processes that consume the most time and cause greatest frustration. Ask your preferred law firm providers if they have tools that have helped clients with these challenges. Try to involve one of your company's data analysts or IT experts to help. Then broadcast to everyone a simple plan to address simplification. Track progress, and celebrate what you've done to lighten in-house counsel workload.