by Andrew Brown

First, a confession

I’ve got to admit it, for the first few years of my life as a professional communicator, I didn’t exactly look forward to working with in-house corporate lawyers. As my colleague and communications thought-leader Elizabeth Williams has frequently said, “For most communicators, venturing to the legal department can feel like being hauled off to the corporate woodshed”. After all, in-house lawyers can be notorious for red-lining, dismantling and obscuring communications that, after much painstaking crafting, has buy-in from multiple stakeholders.

It’s not me. It’s everyone.

As I, ahem, matured, I learned that senior corporate communications leaders around the globe, had unfortunately come to expect that certain inter-department relationships are, by default, strained.

For instance, Employee Communications and Human Resources Employee can find themselves at odds over setting priorities on activities such as how to deal with employee online reviews and how to onboard employees. Employee Communications and Marketing often grapple over internal branding issues. Meanwhile, Employee Communications and Project Management can duke it out over internal processes and escalating concerns to executives. Employee Communications can even find themselves at loggerheads with Customer Support and Sales when it comes to training for new products.

The problem child?

But, why do these tensions exist? Is Employee Communications an organization’s problem child? And, what’s that got to do with my former – and, yes, I did say former – reluctance to work with in-house legal professionals?

Well, having led communications programs aimed at helping organizations navigate drastic and rapid change – it is clear that some of the reason for these tensions are indeed structural. In other words, they play out in organizations – of all shapes and sizes – because of how responsibilities are sliced, diced and hardwired into job descriptions, policies, and day-to-day procedures.

An epiphany

But, while modifying structural issues takes time, patience and senior-level support, there is a faster and considerably simpler method for addressing the tensions employee communications professionals have with in-house legal professionals. And, it’s an approach that has proven to mitigate even the most difficult relationships within an organization.

A path forward – just listen to The Swear Jar

Just listen to The Swear Jar Podcast episode, “A lawyer and a Communications Professional walk into a bar…” for our conversation with Bridgemarq Real Estate Service’s Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Paul Zappala. Together, with Elizabeth and me, Paul helps pave a path for how these two sets of professionals can come to work together well in what could be the professional communicator’s most unlikely alliance.

Exclusives for listeners of The Swear Jar

Get 10% of the price of the newest employee communications workshops brought to you by The Academy of Business Communications. Just enter the promo code “SwearJar” when registering.

For a limited time, get a 20% on tools and training to become a better teller of corporate stories. Go to (by entering the code, LAUNCH).

Win a free copy of one of Paul Smith’s books (“The 10 Great Stories Leaders Tell” or “Selling with Stories”) by sending an email to with a note telling us your story about a meeting that went terribly wrong. We’ll choose winners from the notes sent to us and highlight your in an upcoming episode of The Swear Jar podcast.

Get up to 5% off workshop products from group facilitation experts, Facilitation First.