“When I would explore decisions that were made in the past, I would repeatedly hear, ‘Well, that is what the business wanted to do,’” he recalls. “After hearing this a few times, I said, ‘That is not an acceptable response. If someone in the business wanted to do something, you must have thought it was a reasonable decision or you should have escalated the matter accordingly.’ I had to instill a culture of joint accountability.”
At Grace, Yoo found a law department that had experienced a tremendous amount of change and an expectation to “stay in its swimlane.” He immediately recognized a need to empower the department to be more proactive and to be holistic thought-partners across the organization. The general counsel understood the nervousness that could accompany such a move, but he was confident that the fulfillment and satisfaction would be worth the trepidation.
Yoo points out that legal departments tend to be flatter and proportionately more senior than many other departments. In addition, the department regularly interacts across the entire company.
“If you have smart, experienced professionals who are engaged across the business, it presents a tremendous opportunity to leverage their business acumen and leadership talent—not just their legal skills,” he notes. “That is not an opportunity to waste. Plus, it is much more rewarding for the legal team members, both personally and professionally.
“In many ways, I think that may be the biggest thing I’ve initiated since coming to Grace,” he explains. “We’ve made a great start driving a new culture and embedding it in our organization. And our internal business customers are noticing the difference. In fact, we’ve implemented biannual legal support surveys, and our internal partners provided scores of eight out of ten in our last survey. So, room for improvement but very positive, particularly compared to the reviews I heard in early 2022.”
This change has been accompanied by an increase in the level of engagement and morale within the legal team. “I’ve had numerous team members share, unsolicited, that the current environment is quite positive and collaborative and that they are seeing the impact of our shared vision,” he says.
Yoo especially appreciates what this culture change also can mean for the growth and development of the legal department members. “If you take away the limitations of the ‘swimlane’ mentality, make sure you have the right team members on the bus, and expect and empower them to take accountability and make a difference,” he explains. “You find that people accomplish surprising things.” He very much enjoys creating an environment that fosters personal development as well as organizational development.
The GC acknowledges that learning the value of empowering and developing others took time for him to recognize. “In my early years, I was much more focused on how I could fix a problem or accomplish an objective through my own personal efforts,” he says. “My perspective changed as I experienced being a father and as I progressed through in-house roles.
“My kids continually reminded me, time and time again, that it’s about them, not me,” Yoo adds, laughing. “At some point, you realize how much more everyone can accomplish if you just give them support and let them grow.”
Yoo believes the principle applies in organizations as well. “You can’t be everywhere—and even if you could, the team members have much more expertise in their respective areas than you. But if you make sure the team shares a common mission and set of values, and you support and empower them, and everyone shares a sense of accountability, nothing is out of reach.”
He advises young attorneys never to underestimate the impact they can have, even early in their careers. “I think a lot of people wait until they feel more seasoned or experienced, but I’ve seen a many very junior attorneys who are smart, savvy, and industrious,” he says. “They can bring a fresh perspective and a belief in the possible that can really make a difference. The truth is that sometimes more senior attorneys may have become jaded by what may not seem possible or may be juggling more priorities.
“So young attorneys shouldn’t hesitate to dive in and see what they can contribute,” he concludes. “It is often a lot more than they realize.”
“Tony is a strategic thinker and looks to balance legal concerns with business needs.”
—Gary Simpler, Lindsey White, and Parker Thoeni, Partners
“We congratulate our friend and client Anthony Yoo for his outstanding achievements and recognition by Modern Counsel. We’re privileged to work with Tony, an innovative and collaborative leader.”
—Vidya Atre Mirmira, Partner