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Before social distancing became a meme, largish law departments would periodically hold town halls. At a town hall, the general counsel typically sat with as many members of the law department, or at least of the lawyers, as could fit in a large conference room or auditorium and answered questions from the participants.  Town halls were meant to be a direct link to a GC, unmediated and unprepped.  Those who could not make the session in person could dial-in to listen and also to ask questions. The idea was to allow people to ask about their concerns and what they didn’t understand and hear candid, immediate responses from their leader.

During the pandemic, a general counsel can conduct a virtual town hall.  Everyone can dial-in on a zoom-like software and hear what is said, submit questions by chat, or ask them out loud.  People can once again share in the town hall’s transparency.  Software that can handle such an event may be able to anonymize questions so that they do not disclose the name of the person asking it.  Or, questions may have to be filtered through an HR representative or someone else.

It takes coordination with IT to pull off a virtual town hall. And, some or many members of the department may remain silent. That does not mean they are not interested.  If they have a confidential way of raising what’s on their mind, either before the session or doing during it, they may be more inclined to take part in a virtual town hall.  The arrangement puts pressure on a general counsel to respond to whatever comes up. Some may not wish to have that stress.

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Few people think of a matter management package as a tool that might play a key role with talent during pandemic separation. But if you think of that software as a repository for periodic, short status updates by your lawyers, you can see how it would inform everyone in the law department.  It could even become the foundation of a knowledge management repository.

A general counsel could enlist members of the department to take part by pointing out that they are saving time every day that they do not have to commute to and from work. If instead twice a week, for example, they spent 10 minutes updating the status field of any matters on which they had worked at least a few hours since the most recent update, the demands would not be burdensome. Over time, whoever reads the updates would develop a reasonable sense of what is being done throughout the department.

If you’re law department is small and does not have specialized matter management software, you can do the same thing with a shared document, such as Google Docs, or another form of a secure, shared file. How frequently you ask the lawyers to do this, with what threshold of hour for matters, and with what specificity of reporting can vary greatly. Experiment with it, improve and modify based on what you learn, and decide whether this is a useful technique.

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General counsel should make every effort to enlist help from the human resources department. People in that function understand how to assess morale and what steps to take to keep employees engaged and productive. They often have material that can be distributed and they have tools available to support their efforts, such as workshop agendas.

For example, the head of the law department might ask HR to carry out a survey of employees on how they feel about work. Or HR might help with some interviews of representative members of the law department to gain a more subjective understanding. HR also knows when special recognitions are available, such as spot bonuses.

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Sometimes, simple is best. As a simple step, a general counsel could send periodic informal emails to some or all of the members of the law department.  If the GC apprises everyone with the same message, does so with informal writing rather than corporate-speak, and invites feedback (be sure not to reply all), it is a method to knit the department.

For the top lawyer to adopt this technique to increasing cohesion, share information, and collect feedback, it’s best to start modestly with a couple of paragraphs, and not try to cover too many topics.  Most people feel they already face far too many emails and they would welcome short and sweet ones. Depending whether the emails are weekly or biweekly, they can cover different topics each time or return to important themes

If GCs feel this periodic email technique burdens them too much, what is a better way to reach out to lawyers and staff who are working from home in isolation? Then too, lawyers who manage groups of lawyers and report to the GC also adopt this method of keeping in touch.

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Here’s an unorthodox method to take the pulse of your law department during the pandemic. Figure out a way for members of the department to be able to contribute (text, Slack, email, hard-copy …) comments or complaints about whatever they want – but in a way that makes them very comfortable that their comments will be kept anonymous.  Many companies have hotlines for complaints and whistleblower actions, so they have the technology that protects people from disclosure.  Perhaps the explanation to the department’s members would be that they can use the hotline but put in the subject law department comment.

To get this initiative off the ground, the General Counsel should announce every other week or month how many comments came and say something about addressing them. The summary might be an abbreviated form of whatever was said or even quoting from the message. Once people learn of this avenue for expressing themselves confidentially, it will likely result in some insightful suggestions or criticisms.

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The style of question should be ratings on a 1 to 7 scale with a text box for comments.  An example might be “Compared to pre-COVID19, to what degree has your workload changed?” Or, “Please rank the following challenges that you may face now with remote working.” Then list alphabetically plausible responses people might choose.  Numeric questions are more amenable to analysis; text responses take longer to analyze and are more subjective.

Some people might not want to respond to the survey because they are concerned about breaches of anonymity. Others might prefer a telephone call or a chat exchange. The biggest challenge, however, is probably keeping the number of questions small and avoiding asking crude yes/no questions.

 

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Before the pandemic, GCs could walk the halls and drop in on people to see what they’re working on and how they’re doing. With everyone remote, however, a substitute technique is the drop in phone call (or Zoom call). If you chat for 10 minutes or so with a work-from-home lawyer, you can develop a much better sense of what is happening in the department and its morale.

This technique works best when the GC (or other managing lawyers) sets the time every day or every other day to make one or more calls. The person they call ought to be randomly chosen so that everyone gets a chance and there’s no pattern of favoritism or avoidance. Leaving a message can also show support, but the ideal is a conversation where the GC listens more than talks.

Everyone feels that they are too busy to do this, but if the welfare of your lawyers and staff means something to you, and you want to keep abreast of what’s going on, personal outreach cannot be beat. Especially in large law departments, the GC can feel remote and intimidating to most of the lawyers, but a chat about the weekend, about stresses and concerns, and some personal disclosures can go a long way to lessen that gulf.

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Status reports, where lawyers periodically summarize the progress they have made on their key matters, have been a staple for years of large law departments. Often an intermediary lawyer curates and summarizes lower-level reports into a report to the general counsel.

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It is dispiriting to hear nothing when a status report is sent. After a while, preparation of the report can become moot and simply another administrative task to be completed quickly. Also, for many lawyers, not much changes from week to week or what they are working on. It’s a challenge to keep reporting fresh and have people thinking about the goal: spreading the word about accomplishments and alerting higher-ups to emerging issues.

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Referred to by a variety of names, what I will call “one- on-one meetings” allow lawyers to spend time with those they manage on a set calendar basis.  In the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, for remote, stressed, and fragmented law departments, one-on-ones are a powerful tool for alleviating some of those burdens.  One-on-ones help make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak directly, periodically, and for an adequate time with the person to whom they report.  The direct report and his or her manager has dedicated time to discuss what is going on with work as well as other issues.

Typically, one-on-ones take place about every two or three weeks and last at least 30 minutes. This commitment of time can be a burden for those who have quite a few people reporting to them, but it is arguably the best way to keep in touch both professionally and personally.  Neither emails nor text messages, and not even telephone calls, can provide the emotional-quotient insights of one-on-one focused time together. During the one-on-one, the manager especially needs to listen intently and perhaps jot down notes afterwards, such as about concerns, difficulties with remote work, or what the report would like to do differently.

One benefit of scheduled one on ones is that, knowing they will have a slot of time, both sides can collect material that they want to bring up during the discussion.  A general counsel should not allow the cadence of one-on-one meetings to inhibit other interactions, of course, but on the other hand should key an eye out for any patterns of canceling the meetings too frequently.  Finally, both participants should take a few minutes before each session to outline what they would like to talk or ask about.

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The graphical visualization skills of the New York Times leave me envious. For that reason, a plot in the sports section on August 12, 2015 regarding aces by male tennis players caught my eye. Not having the data available to the 免费翻国外墙的app, I sort-of re-created the plot below. In the same style, mine shows how many law departments participated in the GC Metrics benchmarking survey, sponsored by Major, Lindsey & Africa, during its first five years.

8-14-15 NY Times
The three salient features of the plot that are discussed below are (1) the location of the axis labels, (2) the case used for them, and (3) the absence of a title.

The axis label for the vertical, y-axis perches on top of that axis and reads left-to-right instead of in the usual location in the middle and rotated 90 degrees. It is easier to read left to right, to be sure, but it takes a moment to locate a label far from the customary place. The axis label for the horizontal axis lurks on the far left, instead of in the middle of the plot. Perhaps this placement has advantages, perhaps not.