As the winner of the ‘Competition Individual of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Robert Lindquist, chief compliance officer at Panasonic Avionics Corporation, what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to him.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
Essentially, I am in a newly created position of chief compliance officer for a company providing in-flight entertainment and communication systems to major airline customers around the world. In this new role, I have been developing new systems, processes and attitudes towards compliance. Right now, although I am presently a department of one, I receive substantial help from my legal colleagues.
What led you to a career in-house?
The ability to focus on solving fascinating legal problems without also working to bring more business in (business that might not be all that fascinating).
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
Getting employees at all levels of the company and in varied locations and cultures around the world to accept that compliance is necessary for business success, and is not simply a drag on company profitability. Looking ahead, the most significant challenge for in-house lawyers is to embrace and utilise the dizzying array of applications, especially mobile applications and social media, that can make work more efficient. By nature, lawyers are generally innovation-averse – an attitude that does not serve the profession well.
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
Legal matters requiring a surge of personnel to handle, such as lawsuits. Law departments are not structured to turn a bevy of lawyers loose on a problem. In addition to these surge situations, I would also turn to a lawyer for advice if there is a question requiring a particularly specialised area of expertise. In such cases, I make sure that the lawyer “has been there, done that”. I do not pay lawyers to look up the answer in the same books I might be consulting.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
Willingness to make judgement calls on limited information. In-house counsel spend their working days making yes/no decisions on a multiplicity of business proposals, employment matters and credit authorisations. Each decision carries with the risk that the decision will be wrong and cause harm to the company. Outside counsel has the luxury of giving advice and pointing out risks; in-house counsel, in contrast, must put his or her reputation on the line and make a judgement call. If you have trouble making judgement calls on limited information, in short-timeframes and with attendant risk if you make the wrong call, then you do not belong in-house.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
It has been said many times, but always bears repeating. In-house counsel must think of other ways to help senior management to achieve their goals if the proposed path poses too much legal risk. The legal function cannot be seen simply as a naysayer.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
By being responsive to the business team and viewing them as a client meriting the highest level of responsiveness.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
There is an increasing focus in the inflight entertainment business on connectivity while in the air – connectivity that enables passengers to text friends, email documents to the office or check on the latest news. My company, Panasonic Avionics, is in the forefront of that effort.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
A tour guide to historical sites. That is what friends always tell me. I have taken legal colleagues on guided trips to Ypres, Bastogne and downtown Washington, DC, for example.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
It brought a great sense of humility to receive a global award when the other nominees were such distinguished counsel in their parts of the world.
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions. To make a nomination for the 2017 awards please click here.
For further information on the awards, please visit www.globalcounselawards.com.