How In-House Counsel Can Get Along With the Human Resources Dept.

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A company's in-house counsel and human resources department are sometimes at odds with one another. Often tasked with legally guiding the HR department, the legal department is endlessly updating company policy to reflect rapidly evolving law that requires quick turnaround.

The HR department, on the other hand, can be more bureaucratic, clinging to a "comfort zone" of standard forms, and sometimes too closely aligned with the interests of management. Because the two groups often possess obnoxious similar qualities, in-house counsel and HR departments may butt heads rather than commiserate work together. Here are a few ways to change the relationship:

Fret not, irascible in-house counsel, there are solutions.

Here are a few tips on how to get along with your HR department:

  • Develop trust. One of the best ways you can foster a positive relationship with the human resources department is by doing what you'll say you'll do, when you said you'd do it. You may have the urge to put their needs on the back-burner, but it's necessary to honor human resources needs in a timely manner to show respect. If the HR department is slow to accept change, keep it informed when it's about something you could have predicted or prevented.
  • Understand different work-styles. Though you may fantasize about it, your HR department is unlikely to change. The same goes for you. If you can't change 'em, understand 'em. It might kill you on the inside, but be patient. Figure out how they like to do things. Do the HR folks like frequent communication, requests in writing in advance of meeting, or informal conversation as you pass in the hallway? Sharing your preferences is also important. The better you understand one another's preferences, the better you will work together.
  • Ask for feedback. They may have jobs completely focused on people, but believe it or not, your colleagues in HR can't actually read your mind. (I know, shocking.) When you explicitly ask for feedback, you're opening up a special channel for communication that isn't about the work itself. It creates an appropriate time for constructive criticism and also creates a space for you to praise each other -- when you're all finally on the same page.
  • Don't hold grudges. As the spawn of an adversarial system, lawyers have a tough time with accepting defeat or rejection. If something doesn't go exactly your way, it registers as a "loss," which in turn means the other side scored a "win." The bottom-line: Get over it. This is not a courtroom, it's real life. Disagreement is fine; discord is not.

Time to hug it out and laugh it off.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard