Siemens Canada's GC Richard Brait: 'Run the legal department like a business'

Brait says his team's focus is more on process than substantive law and tech tools

Siemens Canada's GC Richard Brait: 'Run the legal department like a business'

Adopting a highly individualized approach to talent management works well for his team of 14 professionals, says Richard Brait, general counsel at Siemens Canada. Speaking to Lexpert, he says that he now focuses on using real-world scenarios in assessing and developing talent.

“I find this really useful in spotting people's talents and their development needs,” Brait says. “People’s performance on the job, or in simulated situations, can sometimes be a confirmation, but it can also surprise. I’m a big fan of on-the-job learning. We try to move people around, get them outside of their comfort zone and expand their horizons. I think most people who are in an in-house environment probably want to be a general counsel someday. So I’m looking at them and saying: ‘Okay, here's a really talented person. What do they need to do so that they can be a GC?”

In addition to hands-on experience, Brait underscores the significance of continuous education and professional development. He points to the accessibility of massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera as valuable resources – and notes that Siemens incorporates many of these external online resources into its own internal education programs.

“When you go to the websites of places like the Association of Corporate Counsel or the General Counsel Roundtable, what you notice is that there’s seldom stuff about substantive law,” says Brait. “It's all about process. How do you run a legal department? How do you structure your approaches in different areas? How do you work with your businesses?”

It’s a deep-rooted passion for building out his own legal team that ties into Brait’s fundamental principles that guide his management philosophy. The first? Being an integral part of that business team. He offers the example of a CEO turning to the heads of the departments and asking what the business will be doing in dealing with an issue. “He’s not asking for advice,” says Brait. “He’s asking for a decision.”

“Legal needs to be seen by business leaders in the same way,” adds Brait. “What I want is for the business leader to turn to the lawyer and say, ‘what are we going to do here?’”

The second principle? Run the legal department like a business.

“If you're a business, you're worried about efficiency, you're worried about cost, you’re worried about your key performance indicators, but most of all, you're worried about how to succeed in your goals. That will make it easier for you to dispose of the things that aren’t important so you can concentrate on what matters.”

When it comes to supporting businesses in different sectors, Brait notes the strong similarities in the technology and commercial law issues they face.  However, he stresses the importance of having team members who deeply understand the individual business segments they support – so that they know where the risks lie and what the businesses want to achieve.

“Again, you need to become a member of the business as opposed to its advisor,” says Brait.

It’s this integration that allows for a more nuanced understanding of both risk and opportunity and, ultimately, better decision-making. It also helps when the time comes to roll out new technologies – something which is happening more frequently in the legal sphere. And while Brait is quick to acknowledge the value of new legal tech – he’s also quick to advise caution.

“The bloom is off the rose a little bit on legal technology,” he says. “People have started to realize its limitations. One of the problems we face with using legal technology is that it tends to be very good if you do a lot of the same kind of transaction. If you’re in my department, and you're doing hundreds of contracts in 16 different areas, it's very hard to find a suite of technology solutions that will work at a cost point we can afford. So, a lot of our focus tends to be more on process now than it is on the fancier tools. However, there’s a lot of future opportunity with these tools, and we are keeping our eye on how we can leverage the progression, especially with AI.”

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