8 Questions with Award-Winning General Counsel
Tyler Langdon, Corporate Counsel in association with Cognition LLP (formerly Counsel, Global Legal Operations with McCain Foods Limited)
Interviewed by Emily Lee, Partner, ZSA Legal Recruitment
1. Why did you decide to become in-house counsel?
I come from a strong entrepreneurial background and I knew after a couple of years in private practice that I wanted to be back on the business side of the law and part of the decision-making team. I feel being in-house counsel provides an opportunity to use a nice hybrid of business and legal skills. I enjoy playing a larger and more direct role in helping companies to grow and fulfil challenging objectives.
2. What role do you play in helping shape the corporate culture?
In general, I believe in-house counsel add perspective to almost every aspect of an organization that they touch, including defining and shaping corporate culture. They provide a rounded and comprehensive approach to viewing the impacts that decisions have on an organization. In relation to culture, this ability helps ensure that the evolution of an organisation is intentional and purposeful.
3. How did you handle the reporting role to the CEO and the Board?
4. How did you navigate risk management?
First and foremost, in-house counsel need to know the business of the organization intimately and must always be aware of the organization’s business plans and future direction. Combining this specialized knowledge with regular monitoring of external factors enables in-house counsel to proactively identify risk. In-house counsel in particular cannot shy away from risk – they must identify it, appreciate it, and make sure it is accounted for it in the decision-making process. I try to embrace these concepts when navigating risk.
5. What is the biggest professional challenge you have faced during your career?
From a big picture perspective, I would say that having the courage and taking the time to regularly step back and examine my career has often been difficult, and it has been especially challenging when I have determined that I needed to make a change to continue evolving my professional skills. Case in point was my decision to pursue my current role with Cognition. It was hard to leave something that I worked very hard at for a long time and was very comfortable with, but I truly believe that to be fulfilled professionally one must be courageous enough to reach outside of their comfort zone and grab hold of opportunities.
6. What do you look for when making hiring decisions?
The necessary credentials are definitely table stakes for potential candidates. The differentiating factor for me is the candidate’s unique experiences. I want to work with people who have a history of being involved in amazing things, both professionally and personally, and have a great personality. As the adage goes, to be successful you have to surround yourself with successful people. I get enjoyment out of work that has a big impact on an organization, a profession and society at large and I look for teammates with the same interest and track record.
7. How did you handle the outside firm relationship with legal assignments?
At McCain, I had accountability for managing relationships with a large number of firms around the world. My mantra is to be fair, firm and disciplined. If something is not working or is not right, you must be firm about it and communicate with the team. Any arrangement has to be fair – it has to work from the external counsel’s perspective as well or there will not be a long-lasting relationship. At the same time, I believe in-house counsel cannot shy away from directly and frankly asking for what they need from their external counsel. It takes discipline to manage external counsel and run the business of an in-house legal department. I believe relationships always have to be built on give and take, trust, and solid communication.
8. What advice would you give to prepare for moving beyond the counsel’s office within a company?
Like anything in life, I believe you have to do something you are passionate about. My advice would be to practice in an area, with a company, and in an industry that you are passionate about. Once you have achieved that, work hard to build relationships, trust and expertise within the company. Treat everyone with respect as you never know in what role or what capacity you will deal with them in the future. Go above and beyond your role regularly. If you do all of these things, you will be ready for and deserving of a change or promotion.