Building a successful legal team goes beyond hiring talented professionals; it requires a well-defined and adaptable job ladder that supports growth and inclusiveness. In a world where legal challenges are as dynamic as the businesses they serve, crafting a career path that balances clarity with flexibility, equity with specialization, and human ingenuity with technology is crucial for thriving in today’s fast-paced environment.

In this blog post, we’ll glean insights from Katherine Mayberry, VP Associate General Counsel, Farmers Business Network, David Ortenberg, CLO, The Athletic Media Company, and Matt Margolis, Head of Legal & Community, Lawtrades.

Job Ladder Best Practices for Growth & Development

Creating a legal team’s job ladder is a complex task that requires a clear and flexible approach. In an environment where attorneys are often balancing urgent matters with long-term strategy, clarity in career progression is vital. A clear ladder will fall short without regular communication and feedback, so a commitment to transparency is key. In the unpredictable world of startups, the job ladder must also be flexible enough to adapt to business changes, allowing employees to grow alongside the company.

  • Transparency
  • Flexible job ladder
  • Regular communication & feedback

Your team needs to be crystal clear on how they can develop and advance so that they can prioritize accordingly. But even the clearest job ladder will lack impact if there isn’t commitment to regularly communicate expectations along with feedback about how someone is progressing.” 

— Katherine Mayberry

DE&I and Job Ladders — Focusing on Gender & Racial Diversity

Equity and inclusiveness form the foundation of a healthy legal team’s ladder. This involves recognizing how race and gender can influence strategies used by lawyers in their current roles. Make sure that managers are actively helping team members develop the qualities needed for advancement and be mindful of biases, whichever way they may skew. This approach, coupled with objective job descriptions and leveling frameworks, ensures a more fair and inclusive pathway to promotions.

“While there is always some manner of subjectivity in promotions, the more objective the goals you put in front of your team are, the easier it will be to ensure that opportunities are being spread around your team and you’re giving the right people opportunities to push themselves.”

— David Ortenberg

Challenges & Strategies When Redesigning Your Organizational Structure

Redesigning a legal team’s organizational structure is often filled with challenges. Many times changes, even positive ones, can cause anxiety and must be handled with care and swiftness. Clear communication about the new design and having honest, empathetic conversations about changes can help ease the transition, particularly when one attorney has been promoted over another. 

Another strategy during transitional periods is to maintain some continuity within the organization, which can help serve as a reference point while looking to the future plan. Lastly, understanding when to introduce more complex organizational structures, especially during growth phases, can also prevent frustration and keep your team aligned.

“Other issues you may run into result from what your goals are for the team vs. an individual team member’s goal. One person may be better suited as a Deputy GC, but they may be content with having oversight over a particular practice area or aspect of the business. This requires a conversation regarding goals with that person before a change of organizational structure is made. 

— Matt Margolis

Striking A Balance Between Specialization & Cross-Functional Collaboration

While specialization adds efficiency, collaboration builds resilience and offers development opportunities. Regularly reevaluating job assignments and encouraging team members to learn new skills and think beyond their specialized areas fosters a more versatile team. Even as the team grows and specialization becomes necessary, maintaining this collaborative spirit ensures that members don’t become isolated in their roles.

Cross-functional collaboration seems to give back some of the efficiency gains created by specialization. However, it is necessary to build an anti-fragile legal department that can withstand personnel changes, offer development opportunities, and reclaim vacation days.

— Katherine Mayberry

Leveraging Technology: Organizational Design for a Modern, Efficient Legal Team

Technology is playing a significant role in shaping modern legal teams. Tools like Ironclad and Transcend can automate administrative tasks, allowing your team to focus on substantial legal problems. This approach enables the team to concentrate on skill development that can’t be replicated by machines. By embracing technology, legal teams can align their organizational design around solving legal challenges and fostering growth, creating a more efficient and effective ladder to success.

So much lawyer work can be spent trying to keep operations functioning instead of focusing on how to develop the skills that can make a difference farther up the job ladder. Finding opportunities to automate lets your team use their skills in ways that machines can’t.

— David Ortenberg

In the intricate world of legal team organization, crafting a job ladder that embodies clarity, flexibility, equity, and technological innovation is a delicate but essential task. By aligning these principles with an understanding of individual goals, potential biases, and the need for cross-functional collaboration, legal teams can foster an environment that not only meets the immediate demands of the business but also nurtures long-term growth and success. The blueprint for an effective legal team isn’t set in stone; it’s an evolving, living pathway that reflects the complexities and opportunities of our ever-changing world.

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