Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl
There has been much written about the merits of having a positive attitude. Most of what I have read boils down to one simple statement: Your attitude, be it positive or negative, happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, will influence the way you lead your life and in turn determine your satisfaction with the life you lead. As Frankl tells us, happiness cannot be striven for, it simply “ensues.”
Years ago I read the famous book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The book is simply written, but provides a good foundation if one is looking to improve one’s approach to difficult circumstances in life. I practiced some of the exercises recommended by Peale and admit that they helped me through some difficult times.
If you really want to pump up your attitude, you must read Viktor Frankl’s “Mans Search For Meaning.” It is one of the greatest books ever written. In this book is an abundance of material from which to draw if you are in need of a jolt of positive thinking. Frankl survived the Holocaust, imprisonment in several Nazi concentration camps and the murder of his wife and parents. Yet he thrived, finding much happiness in his life. Due in large part because of (and not despite), as he says, the profound meaning in his suffering. His observations about life in the camp lead him to eventually found logotherapy.
What relevance does any of this have to your life as an in-house lawyer? It comes back to “attitude.” Your approach to counseling will be evident from the moment you pick up the phone or step into the room with your client. In turn, the tone of the relationship you create will directly impact your advice to the client. Looking at the positive, avoiding nay saying, looking for solutions, being passionate about helping the business – all show that you are interested. Your interest, passion and good advice will build trust and confidence in you and your approach to problem solving. Clients will more readily receive your advice (influence) and the behavior your advice engenders will encourage discourse, positive, risk averse, (and profitable) behavior.
As in-house counsel, we must approach our role as facilitators. Too many lawyers get a reputation for being obstacles to business in the name of risk aversion. We can leave the “no’s” to outside counsel. When it comes time for in-house lawyers to chime in, we should already be working on work-a-rounds, solutions to get the deal done, rather than reasons it cannot be done. I always remind newly minted in-house lawyers that the company does not exist to provide the lawyer with gainful employment; rather, the lawyer exists to ensure the company continues to exist and be profitable. Saying “no” because risk is too high is not going to help the company make money. Ninety-nine out of 100 times there is a solution that reduces risk to an acceptable level yet allows the business to proceed on a profitable course. It is our job to find that solution.
If you have trouble creating that positive attitude so essential to building rich working relationships, read Frankl’s book. It will change your life. Until then, I leave you with a nugget of wisdom from “Man’s search for Meaning” that can help you keep that winning attitude and avoid missteps that could impact your career long after they are made: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”