It’s an oft-cited tenet that an in-house legal department doesn’t exist in a silo, offset and independent from the business it’s serving. Jim Fry believes in this idea wholeheartedly.
Fry, the vice president, general counsel, and secretary for YRC Worldwide, one of the world’s largest transportation services, oversees the company’s compliance with all laws, rules, and regulations. While he’s excelled in this legal function, it’s also been his mission to continue to improve YRC’s internal communications. This has included playing liaison between his legal department and the rest of the departments in the company to ensure everyone’s on board with what needs to be done when any notable industry changes occur.
“We could just say, ‘Hey, here’s a new law; you need to comply with this,’” Fry says. “But I think it’s also our job to work together with operations and the other departments affected to determine the best approach, what’s going to make it an easier transition, and how to communicate it. I don’t look at my department as just disseminating information, but actively participating in its implementation and determining how it will impact operations and the company on a go-forward basis.”
The ability to play a part in YRC’s business and communication strategy is part of the reason Fry became an in-house counsel and joined the company in the first place. He had worked in private practice for a decade before transitioning to an in-house role, and the switch not only gave him a better work-life balance but also the chance to be part of a company’s decision-making process and not just another legal resource.
“When you are in private practice, you focus more on legal advocacy and legal procedure,” Fry says. “That is not to say that you don’t focus on this in an in-house role; you just develop a more global business approach to how you address and handle matters, and you have to be cognizant of how your decisions may affect more than just one area of the business. You must consider both the legal and business impact and consider the totality of the circumstances within your operational environment. You are not just a lawyer; you are a company representative.”
There are a lot of YRC decisions to be made that Fry is a part of every day. One moment he may have to decide how much money should be spent on an issue, and in the next how aggressively or conservatively to pursue something—or even how much time should be dedicated to a project. Whatever Fry and his team decide on any given issue, one of the big factors always influencing their thinking is what kind of impact the decision will have on YRC.
“Cost isn’t the only determining factor in decision-making,” Fry says. “You have to look at cost also in conjunction with the gravity of the issue and whether it requires a more passive or aggressive approach. If it’s an issue that is going to have a more global, permanent, or industry-wide impact, then yes, I’m going to spend more time and money and be a lot more aggressive in my approach. It is no different than a business analysis or decision when you consider return on investment.”
When it comes to YRC’s internal communication, Fry and the company do a thorough job to make sure everyone who needs to know something does. Whenever there’s a new law, policy, or procedure change to announce, the legal team will talk with higher-ups in the organization to determine how the announcement should be communicated, who should receive the announcement, and what will be the most effective medium to get the word out—whether it’s an in-person meeting, a webcast, or a company-wide announcement. Webcasts are also stored in an electronic library so that employees can go back and relisten at any time for reference or to refresh their memories.
For Fry, perhaps the only thing more important than communicating legislative changes to the law is staying on top of those changes in the first place. Fry and his team keep up with current case law and governmental regulations through continuing education at seminars and industry conferences and by reading publications such as Law 360.
Fry and YRC also work with outside counsel across the country, who will alert the company of any new case developments that could impact its industry, its employees, or how it operates. “We have a lot of different avenues, and we definitely have to keep on top of everything,” Fry says.
As a general counsel, Fry has learned that while it’s important to have an effective legal department, it’s just as imperative to have that department effectively work with different parts of the company and help them understand changes through effective communication.
“We don’t work in a vacuum and only look at things purely from a legal perspective,” Fry says. “The legal department keeps an open line of communication with all departments of the company. Instead of just unilaterally and without explanation or education implementing policies, procedures, or change, we work with individuals and departments to determine impact, understand their prospective, and work together to find mutually acceptable solutions within an established legal framework. I don’t want the legal department to be viewed as a necessary evil or an impediment to business operations. I want to be viewed as a business partner that is there to facilitate creative solutions.”