Being a Problem Solver

Sheila Murphy
July 24, 2023

“All problems are boring until they're your own."

- Galina 'Red' Reznikov, Orange is the New Black

Many lawyers take a very distant and detached approach to their business partners' and clients' problems. These lawyers come in and make grand proclamations on the law and risks but do not come in with solutions and recommendations. These lawyers have a limited trajectory—they are not the ones that clients hire or sit at the highest levels of the corporations. Business clients want lawyers who understand risks and propose solutions.

Here are my three tips for assessing where you are and up your solutions game.

Tip 1: Assess your Problem-Solving Abilities and Advice

Often, we tell ourselves we are not one of those lawyers that do not come up with solutions. We re-frame this to the decision process with the business. I give them the legal environment and the risks, and it is their decision. It feels safer that if anything goes wrong, we have outlined all the risks, and we did not make an actual recommendation or propose a course of action.

You need to understand where you stand on this.

In the best world, you would be able to discuss with business partners and clients how they view your advice and what you could do differently. If you cannot ask them, ask your peers or managers in the room. If this is not possible, you should track what you do and say and discuss it with a mentor, or as a last alternative, be very honest about your approach.

Tip 2: Understand What Stands In Your Way

To change behavior and create new habits, you need to identify when the old pattern comes up and what are the thoughts behind it. If you believe, for example, that if you are someone who points out every single risk, no one can ever criticize you, know that you are wrong.

Managers and clients of both my inside and outside counsel clients have criticized them for this approach. Business clients want attorneys who focus on the forest and not the trees and are solution focused. These clients identified those behaviors and planned out different conversations to create new habits. And their efforts paid off. Their results are better relationships with the clients and more high-profile work.

Tip 3: Specific and Broad-Based Knowledge and Experiences

The best way to be a solution provider is to understand the landscape as deeply as possible and have a broad array of experiences that you can rely on to craft innovative solutions. It would be best to understand the industry's current legal, business, and regulatory landscape. In addition, you need to take the time to understand what the objectives of the matter at hand are and what is the clients' thought process. Having an appreciation of this will allow you to provide the solution-oriented approach that the business is looking for.

And to be truly a thought leader - the broader your experiences and knowledge, the more you can leverage to advance the business goals. This means taking on and learning from different types of legal matters and continuing your legal and business education and experiences so you can draw on different approaches.  

When you think about a client's problems as your own, they become more interesting, and we become more invested. Clients can tell the difference and they want those in it with them at the table.


Want to learn more about how to become the in-house leader you are meant to be?

Check out Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance.

In this guide, Sheila shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.

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