I have never met an in-house attorney who wouldn’t rather solve a small problem upfront than confront a big problem after the fact. They would all agree that there is great value in being proactive. Being proactive can save your company time, money, effort, headaches and heartbreak. In terms of intellectual property, it can mean getting your product to market faster, avoiding costly litigation, and setting up road blocks for your competition. Then why do so many in-house lawyers set themselves up to be reactive?
As I said in my last blog post, most in-house lawyers essentially work in in-house law firms, separating themselves from the company they work for. By acting as de facto outside counsel and not asserting themselves into the business of their business, they are inevitably reacting to events that they could have impacted had they been involved in the decision making process. It’s the difference between alerting the R&D team to a competitor’s patent application prior to them spending time and money reinventing the wheel (so to speak) vs. the R&D group spending months inventing the next best thing, only for their attorney to tell them that they have to start over because ABC Inc. has that patented. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t want to be in the first scenario?
Time is $$$. When you stand in the way, when you slow down the process, when you say “no”, you are an obstacle. You are costing the company $$$.
People naturally avoid obstacles. Think about it. Who would you rather work with, someone who brings solutions to the table or someone who throws a wrench into the works? Even though that wrench might be the right call legally, I guarantee that the people in engineering, sales, marketing or on the management team will not be happy with you.
How can you avoid being the ‘No Man”? Be proactive! Get involved in the business of your business. It’s the model I tried to follow when I was in-house. I met with the company’s engineers on a regular basis. I attended sales and marketing meetings. I even attended the company’s management team meetings on a regular basis. Do you know how much better your intellectual property and advice can be when you know and understand the company’s challenges, short and long term plans, and individual departmental goals and mandates? I do. It’s better to be proactive.
If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Role up your sleeves, get in the trenches with your fellow employees, and ask how you can help them find solutions to their challenges. Help your client seek a solution before there is a problem.
So you can stay the course and continue reacting to events or you can create a new role for yourself. To all of the in-house attorneys out there, which option will you choose?