At The Table

Work Need Not Be a Four-Letter Word

Eric Dale, chief legal officer of Nielsen, the iconic global measurement and data analytics company, talks about the makings of a good lawyer – and a good job.

CCBJ: What led you to pursue a career in law?

Eric Dale: I had three primary influencers who were lawyers I liked and respected. What they did seemed interesting. One thought I’d be a good lawyer because I liked to argue. So early on, I got it into my head that I would be a lawyer. That stuck with me, though by the time I went to law school I didn’t intend to practice. I thought it would be a good, differentiated background for a business career.

What brought you to Nielsen?

Nielsen was a client for about eight years when I was in private practice primarily doing M&A. My predecessor, who was retiring, said he thought I’d be a great choice and asked if he could put my name in the hat.

Tell us about your leadership style and what influenced it.

There was no single influence – there have been a host of them. I’ve had the good fortune of working with extraordinary lawyers and a number of mentors. I’ve tried to take bits and pieces from all of them. One’s leadership style has to be authentic and your own. If you see things that resonate along the journey and incorporate them into your style, it can make you better at what you do.

My own style is focused on supporting my team. I’ve worked with a lot of really good lawyers, both in private practice and at Nielsen. Good lawyers want flexibility and room to run. They look for people they can bounce ideas off of, or who might help with a particularly thorny issue. Mostly it’s a matter of giving people ample latitude while keeping your finger on the pulse of things so you know what’s going on and can jump in where you think you can add value.

What qualities do you look for when you’re hiring attorneys, and how do you find those qualities?

Some of it is role-specific. You look for different qualities for different jobs. In general, however, being an excellent lawyer is the price of entry. But that only gets you on the short list. It isn’t enough to get the job. I look for people who can differentiate themselves, who can understand the role of being a client service provider, whether as inside or outside counsel.

You also have to understand the business you’re supporting. That’s an enormous differentiator. There are many good lawyers, but if you want to take your practice to the next level, you need a passion for the business and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and learn it.

It is also critical that they be team-oriented. No one acts alone – not in our world certainly, or in the world generally. The ability to work with others effectively is important. That means people who are senior to you, junior to you, or in roles outside of the department.

Lastly, I look for people who are problem solvers – people who understand the ultimate goal, not just the narrow issue presented, and can help solve the bigger problem while addressing the narrower issue.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your role at Nielsen?

A big challenge is taking all the characteristics that I just talked about – solution orientation, business orientation, excellence of legal service and client service – and making sure you have those characteristics across scores of lawyers who sit in more than a dozen markets and support a business operating in more than 100 countries. Embedded in that are challenges such as implementing a consistent culture, understanding the way business is conducted globally, how business and legal norms differ in certain communities and countries, understanding the breadth of issues we deal with daily, and making sure we have the policies, practices and means of execution deployed consistently across a large organization.

What’s the best career and life advice you’ve received?

A former partner of mine would say, “You do something once to learn. You do something a second time to become an expert. You do something a third time, and you’re wasting your time.” That has always resonated with me. It’s important to get deeply involved and become expert at what you do, but it’s also important to stay fresh and do new and different things.

This is a bit of a cliché, but clichés often are grounded in truth. You’ve got to do something that you enjoy. Work can be a four-letter word, or your job can be something you really like to do. You should enjoy getting up and going to work. That doesn’t mean every moment of every day needs to be fun. But if you’re not having fun overall, figure out why and make a change.

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