How To Turn Lawyers into Leaders

Just a short while ago, there was no sense of ownership in the legal department of SourceHOV, a global provider of business-process solutions. Christy O’Connor knows it’s hard to change people, so instead, she changed the culture in which they work

Christy O’Connor SourceHOV
Christy O’Connor | General Counsel | SourceHOV

When I got to SourceHOV, the legal team was extremely disorganized with very little or no ownership for the various areas of responsibility. It was almost as if they didn’t feel they could make a decision and were very used to being micromanaged. It absolutely needed to change, and I dove in immediately.

My vision was for our in-house attorneys to become leaders—not only in the legal department but in the business as a whole. To do this, we needed to implement specific delineations of responsibility and instill in the team a culture of ownership. I began by redistributing the workload among the attorneys so it was clear to them what areas they were responsible for. We educated them on acceptable legal terms to use as guidelines, and gave them the authority to negotiate on their own without micromanagement.

I ensure that they always know I am available to guide and advise them, but I encourage them to present not only the problem, but also a solution that we can build upon. Each person on the team has made progress under this new structure, and most have lived up to the potential I knew they had. Since it’s hard to change people, we changed the culture in which they worked, to enable them to become leaders.

I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m pleased with the process we’ve made. Of course, the legal team will change over time. But I am committed to finding the strengths of our team members and capitalizing on them. Change makes everyone nervous until they see the results, so I’m very dedicated to finding people who will make a quick and lasting impact.

Culturally, SourceHOV can be a little bit divided. Because it’s a combination of many companies, there can be an “us versus them” mentality. But the fact that SourceHOV is a very diverse company—not only in regard to the people, but also in regard to the types of businesses—also makes it stand out. This company has found many things it is good at, has identified the synergies between the various lines of business, and is committed to excelling in all areas. It can be very hectic when dealing with so many diverse needs of the company, but I think that’s what keeps the day-to-day work exciting and fresh. I’ve worked very hard to instill in my team that we are one company, undivided, and that the success of each of us depends on one another.

I’ve learned a lot while building this legal team. As a leader, you have to analyze each team member individually and recognize his or her talents. You have to earn their loyalty and respect. And when you meet with resistance, sometimes you have to help that person find an opportunity where they will be successful. The most important thing to me is the success of my team members. People are important to me, because I can honestly say that I built my career on the relationships I forged and nurtured.