In 2008, Monster Worldwide was still emerging from a backdating scandal that left it in a shaky legal situation. The company was under new leadership, beginning to overhaul its business strategy, and dealing with messy litigation. It was the perfect situation for the challenge-seeking Michael Miller when he was named general counsel of the publicly traded company at the age of thirty-six.
Considering the numerous difficult challenges he faced at the beginning of his time at Monster, it’s easy to see why Miller relied so heavily on his stellar team of lawyers. Those relationships have only been strengthened over the past several years, something he says is vital to the implementation of Monster’s new models. “The launch of this new strategy demanded cross-functional work within the legal department and across the company,” he says. “Everybody had to work together, and I got to play quarterback.” In this “all hands on deck” situation, Miller was especially pleased by the complementary and compatible nature of the legal team’s personalities and differing expertise. Once tasks were delegated, teammates took them and ran, communicating well with each other, while being fully engaged in business meetings. “I was so pleased to be leading a team of people who clearly knew what they were doing and enjoyed doing it,” he says.
Identifying roles and expectations right away led to the development of a highly functioning legal group. It fostered healthy relationships among staff, a sense of value and independence as individual lawyers, and trust in each other and their leader. The structure, as well as their openness to new ways of doing things, allowed for a beautiful congruence, and Miller had the privilege of watching from the helm. “I was able to lead the restructuring of a dysfunctional organization into an efficient one, and empower the lawyers in the organization to be the best lawyers they could be.” That empowerment of his people continues to be of utmost importance to Miller, and a large part of his definition of career success.
Organizations of Monster’s size are often hierarchically “flat” for in-house lawyers, meaning there is little room for promotion within the company. This structure can make it difficult to inspire ongoing commitment to the company, especially in the face of change in management, structure, and strategy. But Miller believes that earning his people’s trust, and encouraging them to develop their own practices within the company, was and is a powerful way to inspire continuous motivation. “If I could walk away at the end of my time at Monster and have my team say that they were given development opportunities and access to everything they needed to grow as lawyers, then I will know that I succeeded as a manager.”
And for Miller, management doesn’t stop at people or legal issues, but extends to the greater vision of the company. Being called upon to weigh in on all kinds of different issues—legal and otherwise—is a large part of being a general counsel for Miller, but is not unique to Monster. Having a solid understanding of the law, as well as a love of the business side of the operation, is a crucial combination for an in-house career at any company. “I love my job because it’s not just working on legal issues,” he says. “I really enjoy being part of an executive management team that respects my opinion.”
In their day-to-day work, Miller’s legal team is ultimately called upon to support Monster’s sales team. Legal’s work involves everything from determining which products can be sold in which countries, to what method should be used to collect payment, to many other unseen projects involved in the details of running a global company. But their job is also to stay focused on the overarching business strategy, and to work toward those larger goals. “As a manager, I see the strategy from up above, so I can direct the legal team to get us to our end goals successfully,” Miller says. “Our job is not to say no; the challenge is to find a way to say yes while protecting the company.”
For Miller, being an in-house counsel means juggling many different types of work while maintaining balance between legal needs and business needs. Miller’s job is to meet the business needs without exposing the company, to mitigate risk as much as possible, and to effectively motivate, support, and manage a dynamic team of expert attorneys who do the same.