Dennis Garcia is an Assistant General Counsel for Microsoft. He practices “at the intersection of law, technology and business and leads the legal support function to Microsoft's US Enterprise Commercial team - a group of over 2000 sales, marketing, technical and services professionals that manages Microsoft's largest commercial business with its biggest customers.” He is also an active user of social media and is a fellow blogger.
How do you innovate within your role?
Let me first say thank you for providing me with the opportunity to be featured in your blog. I really admire your active social media presence, I’ve learned a lot from you and you are a leading innovator in our profession.
In my role I lead a team of 14 outstanding legal professionals located across the US and we provide legal support to over 2,000 sales and technical professionals who are part of our US enterprise commercial segment – one of Microsoft’s largest businesses. My team and I spend time shaping and negotiating a variety of contractual arrangements with our large customers and providing general legal support to our business clients on a wide-range of issues.
There are a few ways I try to innovate within my role. First it all starts with embracing the “growth mindset” in everything I do. Our CEO Satya Nadella wants Microsoft to be the “learn-it-all” company versus the “know-it-all” company. I do my best in absorbing as much information as I can about our business, our technology solutions, our customers, our competitors and the fast-changing intersection of technology and the law. In addition, when I make mistakes, I try to learn from them, I don’t dwell on my mistakes and I move forward.
Another way I try to innovate is by embracing empathy. As a lawyer “in the trenches” with our sales and technical professionals, it’s really important for me to be customer-centric – towards our business clients, our end user customers and my team. I pride myself in trying to better understand the interests and points of views of my business clients, the lawyers who are representing our customers on a wide variety of matters and my teammates. Appreciating and being empathetic to their perspectives enables me to be better positioned to be an innovative problem-solver and to develop smart risk-taking solutions that makes sense both for Microsoft and our incredibly important customers.
You often write about diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. How do you advocate for greater diversity and inclusion within what historically has been a profession lacking in both diversity and inclusion?
I think it’s vital to recognize that there are so many important business reasons for lawyers to embrace diversity and inclusion. First, there have been many studies demonstrating that diverse teams are more higher performing than non-diverse teams. In addition, for lawyers to best serve their clients it’s important that they have access to different and a broad range of perspectives that attorneys from diverse backgrounds can provide. In addition, many of our clients and customers come from diverse backgrounds so it’s important that the legal services we offer account for their interests and points of views.
Here's some things that we can all do to advocate for greater diversity and inclusion:
Be Purposeful: Be sure to actively target great diverse candidates when recruiting for open positions. Use social media tools like LinkedIn to help you recruit great diverse talent and adopt a formal requirement to interview diverse candidates similar to the leading practices described in the Mansfield Rule.
Support Diverse Affinity Groups: There are many terrific diverse affinity groups in the legal profession. Actively support these organizations, attend their events and use these organizations to help recruit great diverse talent.
Diverse Outside Counsel: Microsoft’s law firm diversity program provides some best practices in this area: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/legal/diversity/lawfirmdiversityprogram.
Measure Your Work: The management guru Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured gets improved.” Be sure to develop and keep track of meaningful metrics for diversity and inclusion.
Focus on Inclusion: One of my favorite quotes is from diversity and inclusion leader Verna Myers who says: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” As leaders we need to constantly work at creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels welcome. Make sure that you offer unconscious bias training and use leading state-of-the-art collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams to build more inclusiveness in your legal organization.
There is a tendency to conflate technology with innovation. How do you distinguish between the two both in theory and in practice?
In theory I view innovation as being a mindset and technology as being the actual tools that have been created which can demonstrate innovation. As we know, sometimes technology may not always be very innovative, and I also believe that using leading technology can also help drive innovation.
When Satya Nadella first become CEO of Microsoft a little over five years ago he said the following in his first company-wide email to all employees: “Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.” While Satya was describing the technology industry, I think his quote is equally applicable to the legal profession. As lawyers we all need to be innovators in providing legal counsel to our clients. Using leading technology solutions such as cloud computing, data, social media and artificial intelligence can make us even better innovators and can enable us to provide even more high-impact legal services to our clients.
The legal profession is one undergoing a transformation. How do you see yourself and/or your team changing/adapting over the next few years?
I believe it begins with being comfortable with change and then being willing to adapt quickly. We have all heard the phrase “the only constant is change,” and I’ve seen it with my own journey as I’ve had three different positions in the Microsoft legal department over the past three years and I believe that change has made me a better lawyer and a better leader.
Another key aspect to changing/adapting over the next few years is to actively embrace technology to fuel digital transformation. I especially look forward to embracing more artificial intelligence-powered tools to help our team get out of routine and repetitive work and to free us all up to perform more interesting and more high impact work for our clients.
As we change/adapt I also think we need to be bold, not be afraid at making mistakes and learning from them. As we know our legal profession is very risk averse and conservative – however we all need to be better at taking smarter risks and not fearing failure.
What advice would you give to a law student about to enter the legal profession or a lawyer who is just starting to practice law?
Here’s some advice:
Use Leading Technology: I believe technology is a lawyer’s best friend and can help all of us better serve our clients. Don’t be shy in actively using cloud-based solutions, artificial intelligence tools, social media and gaining valuable insights from data.
Be Social: Develop an active social media presence on LinkedIn and Twitter to learn from others, develop business relationships and to build your brand. I would also encourage them to follow both you and I on Twitter. :-)
Network, Network & Network: Always be networking as building meaningful relationships with the right people are so critical to advancing your legal career.
Privacy & Cybersecurity: As we live in a data-driven world, I believe all lawyers will need to gain more data privacy and data security skills as they are increasingly relevant to almost every legal practice area nowadays.
Develop Your Public-Speaking Skills: Being a confident public speaker is an important skill set for lawyers that can help advance your career. Actively look for opportunities to speak in a public setting, constantly practice honing your communication skills and if needed, don’t be shy in seeking out the advice of a mentor/coach who can help you in this area.
Always Be Kind: Be nice and respectful to everyone and never “burn your bridges” with anyone.