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Go Beyond the Brief: Advice from a CLO for Aspiring In-House Leaders

If you aspire to an in-house leadership role, Curt McDaniel, Chief Legal Officer at Ferring Pharmaceuticals for over 17 years and former Associate General Counsel at Eli Lilly for an impressive 16 years, has some transformative advice.

In a recent conversation I had with him on the In-House Outliers podcast, Curt advocated for a paradigm shift in the approach of current and future legal leaders. He also emphasized the importance of transcending the traditional confines of legal expertise and encouraged them to embrace a broader business perspective.

“You need to be able to think about your legal department as a business and how to run that efficiently,” Curt stated.

Curt McDaniel on the importance of running legal like a business, and how to go about doing that.

Curt also emphasized the importance of financial acumen when steering legal departments toward strategic success.

Legal Leaders Need Financial Fluency

In our conversation, Curt emphasized how his MBA played a pivotal role in shaping him into a legal leader fluent in the language of business and finance.

He highlighted the program’s significance in providing a solid understanding of financial statements. Curt shared his genuine enthusiasm for data, expressing, “I love spreadsheets. I love numbers. I love looking at them in different ways. And as you know, I love data.”

Building on this, I asked Curt how aspiring legal leaders, or those at an earlier stage in their career, could benefit from his experiences. Curt emphasized the importance of not solely focusing on developing legal expertise but actively working to enhance their financial fluency.

As he aptly put it, “Don’t necessarily just focus on developing your legal expertise; look at ways to develop your business acumen if you want to ultimately develop into a leader of the legal function.”

Curt also mentioned Ferring’s budget process, highlighting its crucial role in effective legal leadership.

He stressed the need for legal professionals to comprehend the scope of their budgets and articulate the story behind them. He says, “The narrative and the numbers need to match up so people can understand why you’re asking for more money.”

An e-Billing System Gives Legal Leaders Needed Visibility

As an in-house legal leader, navigating the complexities of legal operations and technology implementation can be daunting. During our chat, Curt shared insights from Ferring’s journey into legal tech adoption.

Recognizing the need for efficient legal management, Curt highlighted the significance of implementing legal technology. For Ferring, the initial focus was on matter management and e-billing tools, with Brightflag emerging as the go-to solution. Adopting this e-billing system became the low-hanging fruit, providing the financial visibility he and his Head of Global Operations, Sheila Dusseau, needed.

Curt McDaniel describes how Brightflag consolidated all the data about his legal team's outside counsel spend in one place.

In a previous interview with Brightflag, Sheila reflected on her approach: “My Day One priority was to gain control over our global legal spend. Improving visibility was crucial in the short term, but I was equally focused on establishing a long-term plan.”

Drawing from her experience of implementing three different billing and matter management systems in previous roles, Sheila understood the potential pitfalls that faced her. That’s how she knew the importance of laying a strong foundation from the start.

“Teams often discover that the technology has more capabilities than initially anticipated, and the key lies in how you set things up from the beginning—it determines whether and how you capitalize on that untapped potential.”

For an in-depth dive into Curt McDaniel’s wealth of experience as a seasoned legal leader and his valuable advice as a Chief Legal Officer, be sure to listen to the full In-House Outliers podcast interview.

Alex Kelly

Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder at Brightflag

Alex co-founded Brightflag after spending more than six years at Matheson, Ireland’s largest law firm, in its financial institutions group. A legal technology thought leader, Alex is a frequent speaker at legal operations conferences on topics related to legal innovation and legal transformation.