This General Counsel Proves the Vital Importance of Open Communication with Legal to Stop Risks in Their Tracks

Elizabeth Bounds increased awareness of legal pitfalls within her company by bridging the gap between staff and the legal department.
By: | July 25, 2022

To effectively manage risk, a company must first be able to identify potential exposures. Recently promoted to general counsel at Brown & Riding, Elizabeth Bounds recognized the faster this identification takes place, the  more effective an organization can be at finding solutions.

When she first  joined B&R in 2014, Bounds noted, “Employees didn’t have a clear understanding about which issues to raise or how, where or when to raise them.”

External legal counsel had previously made occasional presentations on reporting issues. However, their methods were impersonal and failed to engage staff. They also did not provide a concrete framework for how employees should handle the risks they identified.

Bounds understood employees’ hesitation in speaking with the legal department and identified the need to increase her visibility. To start, she had to build rapport with employees, convey approachability and educate them about which issues were important to report. Bounds also knew she had to reassure employees that they need not fear reprisal by bringing forward concerns.

“When offering information to legal, employees worry that they’re essentially telling on themselves,” Bounds said. “I needed to assure them that regardless of where or how a problem arose, I am here to work with them to find solutions, not to punish or reprimand.”

Drawing from her own experiences with colleagues, Bounds identified face-to-face communication as a far more effective way to engage: “It’s more personal than Zoom, has fewer distractions and is more conducive to discussion and meaningful interaction. When people feel more comfortable, they are more likely to participate.”

She implemented a legal training program with a more casual environment. Since doing this, Bounds has started making regular visits to each office to keep conversations open. During her sessions, she explains the costs and consequences of previous legal issues the firm has faced and preventative measures that could have been taken if problems had been brought to light sooner.

“Early detection maximizes our ability to find workable solutions before things progress to a point of no return,” she said. “Using real-life examples gives context and makes the message relevant and relatable. It helps answer the question ‘why should I care?’ by demonstrating how these issues might arise in their own practice.”

Her overall strategy has proven to be a great success. Despite B&R’s growth in recent years, the number of E&O claims have gone down. The company’s external legal expenses also continue to decrease.

“That isn’t even the most important part,” Bounds said. “The greater impact is that we are more aptly equipped to help our customers when they need it. We’ve always been invested in partnering with retailers and carriers. The fact that our staff has become more proactive in identifying potential problems sooner has allowed us to provide better service and deliver better results.” &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected].

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