Have you ever been a stranger in a strange land?  I love to travel.  When I travel, I love to read travel guides about my destination to learn about the places I will visit, local customs, and even some words in the native language when appropriate.  Being able to converse, even on the simplest level, can work wonders.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how far a smile and a “thank you” in the native tongue can get me.

As IP lawyers, we tend to speak our own version of a foreign language sometimes.  We speak in legal jargon (and a dialect that even other lawyers have a hard time understanding).  The problem is that our clients speak business.  Mr. Ruud Peters, Chief IP Officer at Philips, summed it up pretty well when he said:

To achieve this prominence and enhance our impact, it is important
that we learn to speak the language of business, the language that the managers
and board members in our companies understand. We have to indicate what the
impact of different IP scenarios and strategies will be on the top line and the
bottom line of the company. And the more we can quantify our arguments in
euros, dollars or Swedish crowns, the better. We simply cannot expect general
management to be versed in all the technicalities and intricacies of IP law and
practice. It is our duty to explain the importance of IP for business in
business language, which is often financial language.

So, how much “business” do you speak?  When I started at my last corporate position, I knew very little.  In fact, I will admit that I was pretty much clueless when it came to the language of business.  Supply chain?  Profit margins?  Distribution channel?  I had never encountered these topics in law school.  I knew about business formation, but nothing about running an established business.

I KNOW that I am not the only in-house attorney out there to suffer from this lack of understanding.  In fact, I believe that many in-house lawyers set themselves up in de facto law firms within the company (as discussed previously at https://ipinfocus.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/role-play/ ) to AVOID learning about business.  It feels safer  to stay with what you know and speak in the language you are familiar with.

This attitude is bad for business.  How can you be proactive if you can’t speak effectively with your client?  To be truly effective, you can’t hide behind being a lawyer.  You need to engage your clients on their terms.

This means you need an education.  If you are going to be part of a business, you need to know what people around you are talking about, so learn how businesses work.

How do you do that?  You read.  You read business books.

You ask.  Find out what your business leaders are reading.  And don’t just stick with technology related reading.  Break out of your comfort zone and ask the Chief Financial Officer if there are any blogs he follows.  Ask the VP of Sales to recommend a good book on business.

Here are a few book recommendations of my own to get you started.

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman.  This is should be titled Everything You Wanted to Know about Business but Were Afraid to Ask. Seriously, there isn’t a part of a business that isn’t covered.  I wish this book was around when I was in-house.  It would have made me a better leader.  It would have saved me a lot of time, and made me a better communicator.

Drive and A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink.  If you want to know how business will be (or should be) done in 10, 15, or 20 years, then read these books.  Mr. Pink does a fantastic job explaining how businesses are changing to meet the challenges they face in a post-industrial age world and in light of the rise of global competition, especially competition coming from China and India.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  This book has been recommended by so many people.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my reading list.

Any book by Seth Godin.  Seriously, just pick up any one of his books.

If you have a favorite, please let me and my readers know about it in the comments!