An in-house attorney’s job is never to sit back and watch a company grow—it’s to ask how to make that growth continue and expand. Aspen Dental Management, a business services provider to dental practices that supports over 530 offices in thirty-three states, has enjoyed an impressive rate of growth within the last few years. The company reported 3.4 million patient visits in 2014, with 750,000 new patients added.
As Aspen Dental grew, company leaders realized they needed a business strategist to manage in-house legal counsel, and they wanted someone with extensive knowledge of multiunit expansion.
Aspen Dental hired Mark Weisberger in 2012, and he immediately set the goals as a business leader—not just an attorney. “One of my primary goals was to increase the growth rate to sixty or seventy offices each year,” he says. At the time, Aspen Dental was opening approximately thirty to forty offices each year, so Weisberger’s target was an aspirational one. He relied on his development experience from the restaurant industry to make his goal a feasible one. Here, he outlines the strategies he used to make his goal actionable.
Provide support on all fronts
Weisberger takes a supportive approach with his organization. As chief legal officer, Weisberger is required to work on many different practice areas, and he must foster a close working relationship with the real estate department. “We have different folks in regions that support dental offices,” he says. “When things come up of a legal nature, it’s our job to assist them.” Keeping the real estate department’s needs in mind was crucial to Weisberger’s goal to open more offices than the company had ever opened year over year before.
“Chief legal officers can be most effective when they have good relationships with senior business leaders.”
Align business goals with legal compliance
In-house lawyers navigate the necessity of maintaining compliance while achieving business objectives—a point that Weisberger stresses. “Chief legal officers can be most effective when they have good relationships with senior business leaders—that’s something I have here,” says Weisberger.
Though Weisberger tries to handle legal issues internally, he needs to rely on outside counsel, particularly on state-specific regulatory matters. That continues to be and will become even more true as the company opens more offices around the nation, as per Weisberger’s goal.
Ensure people are in the right places to do the right work
Having a game plan for legal matters that fall outside the scope of in-house counsel is critical to this and every goal. When he joined Aspen Dental, Weisberger realized the company wasn’t using its outside attorneys to their full potential.
Operating in multiple states requires organizations to stay compliant with changing, often deviating regulations. Local attorneys are best positioned to see these needs, but they weren’t proactively sharing these changes with Aspen Dental. Weisberger made it a priority to establish partnerships with outside experts. “There really wasn’t anything like that in place before I joined,” he explains. Weisberger strengthened those relationships, and now his team knows which firms to go to for any issue in any region. “When new matters come up that we haven’t addressed previously, we call upon our outside partners to assist us,” he says.
Improve the status quo
Judging by Aspen Dental’s recent track record, Weisberger’s approach to supporting growth and expansion while meeting the legal needs of the organization is an effective one.
Achieving success requires more than knowledge of the law, he stresses. Attorneys must understand the business at a granular level. Involvement with the operations managers of the organization is not only something Weisberger recommends, but something he feels is critical to his department’s success in supporting the business. “Lawyers sometimes come into a corporate environment and fail to fully appreciate that aspect of it,” he says. “I would encourage attorneys who are interested in coming in-house to think of themselves as both the company’s lawyer and also as a business partner to management.”
Partnerships with other departments and outside counsel drive business growth. Weisberger is quick to point out the importance of his relationships with his leadership team.
“I work very closely with the senior team,” Weisberger says. “Positive working relationships with the leaders of our company enhance the legal department’s credibility and effectiveness within the organization. They ensure that we, as lawyers, are at the table when important decisions are being made, and that we have an opportunity to help craft strategies and tactics to both protect the company’s legal interests and accomplish management’s business goals.”