Border Crossing: Building an International Team to Support a Global Business

Source: ACC Docket

By David Oskandy

Even if you’ve built a solid team at headquarters, expanding internationally is a completely new challenge. The legal landscape varies from one part of the world to another. Differences in culture, educational systems, and compensation expectations all present their own complications. Where do you begin?

What's your motivation?

Start by considering your motivation for expansion. Barrett Avigdor, managing director of Latin America for Major, Lindsey & Africa, explains: “We advise that the general counsel or legal department work closely with the business to really think through what the business's needs are in the region.” Ideally, a legal team grows with the business — expanding into new regions as the need arises for local support or specific skills. Think about not only what the business needs today, but where it’s going in the future. Consider how the foundation you lay now will scale. What is the right mix of professionals and paraprofessionals to maximize the investment you will make? Do you build from the bottom up to meet simple needs today and plan for greater complexity later? Or do you start at the top and work down, working ahead of the business's immediate needs in anticipation of its growth?

What are you looking for?

Bianca Thomond, head of Major, Lindsey & Africa's in-house practice group for EMEA, cautions: “It’s important to plan the hire six months out to truly get a good fit — and you have to define the role. When meeting with and assessing a candidate, they may be one thing today and they may have the ability to grow into something moving forward, so it’s important to determine where we think a candidate can develop or can be a perfect match with a client.” Avanade is part of a very dynamic industry — technology consulting — where new and often significant innovations come quickly and require us to understand new technologies. We also have to stay on top of not only the laws and regulations that govern what we do, but also those that pertain to our clients. Because of this, we know we need people who possess an intellectual curiosity, who find it fun to learn new things, and who are capable of learning fast since things change so quickly. These qualities or others that would be equally important in your company's industry are not easily recognized in a typical resume, so it’s important to make the time and effort to know your candidates well. Take the hiring process seriously and don't consider it simply as a necessary and unwelcomed diversion from your day-to-day work. Make your own time count for more by putting trusted frontline filters in place to select candidates who truly exhibit the skills and experience you need and show promise of fitting into your vision and company culture.

Speak to the stakeholders

The Avanade legal team maintains a close relationship with Avanade's business. We act as trusted advisors to the business and enjoy a strong reputation with our internal stakeholders. Our attorneys are members of regional and local business leadership teams as well as thought leaders in business strategy groups. They interact with local business leadership continuously on a wide range of matters. We bring in the business leadership at the beginning of the recruiting process and incorporate their input in developing the profile and goals for the position. “Sometimes the business has different ideas of what they want their lawyer to be compared to what the legal function wants their lawyer to be doing,” says Olivia Seet, head of Major, Lindsey & Africa's in-house practice group for Asia-Pacific. “The job description is an extension of the company. In some markets, it may be very candidate-driven. Make your company part of the selling point. You want the candidate to see a future with the company.”

Decide on a reporting structure

"It's really important to think about the reporting line,” explains Thomond. “Most of our clients have a solid line into the general counsel and a dotted line into the local business. I think having both helps to ensure clear communication and it can often help the natural tug of war of ‘Who do I report to on a daily basis?’” The Avanade legal group maintains a lean structure with a small leadership team. All Avanade legal team members have a direct channel to me and the leadership team, and we actively share ideas through regional and global meetings (virtually and in-person). I’ve put in place a highly accomplished leadership team that includes a general counsel for each of our main three geographic areas: Europe; North America, which includes the United States and Canada; and “Growth Markets,” which is a combination of APAC plus Brazil and South Africa. I have empowered them to build out their teams as they see fit, maximizing their ability to align well with the structure of the business in their geographic areas and respond rapidly to its priorities as true partners of the business leadership. Avanade's assistant corporate secretary, regulatory compliance lead, lead employment counsel, business operations manager, and HR representative also sit on my leadership team.

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