GC Insights with Bil Potter

May 7, 2020

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, US businesses have been making substantial changes to the way they conduct business. GC Insights is an ongoing series of interviews that shares, in part, how GCs and their teams are demonstrating flexibility during these unprecedented times.

Latitude Indiana President, Tim Haley, recently caught up with William Potter (“Bil”), General Counsel of J Squared, Inc. d/b/a University Loft Company, a manufacturer and distributor of furniture at student housing and government facilities all over the world, headquartered in Greenfield, Indiana.

Tim: What do you typically do most days? Has your focus or responsibilities changed significantly in the past few weeks in light of the current pandemic?

Bil: What was typical of my days “pre-pandemic” is not necessarily typical now in the midst of the pandemic. Nearly all aspects of my work have been impacted directly or indirectly by the pandemic. Nearly always now, as I look at an issue or problem for my company, my first thought or question is how it is impacted by the dynamics of the pandemic on manufacturing, supply chains, logistics, finances, the law, sales, sourcing, etc.

My “workday” still begins in the wee hours of the morning, checking emails from our Asia offices to learn early of any potential issues requiring my services and skills. But, where “pre-pandemic” I would at least get a bit more sleep (or give my Lab puppies an early walk) after looking at these overseas emails, now I am prone to check out various websites/Internet sources for information on developing trends or potential trends from the pandemic within my company’s industry. I don’t want to be caught by surprise due to some bit of information I could have learned earlier. But I do hope that soon I can get back to those early morning Lab puppies’ walks!

Tim: How do you insure you personally, your team and your company continue to thrive–both generally during normal times and during a pandemic or other times of big change?

Bil: I am strong proponent of the Servant Leader approach to management. As a result, I seek a balance in my life and seek to support a balance in the lives of the people on my team at work. Part of that balance is taking the time (and allowing the time) to reflect on what has come to pass, on how that past informs the present, and then on ways the past and present may impact the future. This approach allows me, and anyone for that matter, to sort the wheat from the chaff of the seemingly (but not really) important trends and impacts from those developing lines of legal and business issues truly needing to be addressed upon appropriate reflection and analysis.

Time to think, to reflect, to ponder and plan is the single most important management tool in my skills box . . . and in the skills box of those with whom I team. Hence, my desire to get more time for those early morning Lab puppies’ walks!

Tim: What advice would you give to other managing attorneys in similar-sized companies who are struggling to adapt to our current coronavirus environment?

Bil: First, breath in, breath out, and repeat . . . in a quiet environment . . . to promote for yourself and your teammates the toolbox skill I mention above: TIME . . . to think, to reflect, to ponder, to plan, to converse and communicate effectively.

Second, if you have not yet started to do so, it is never too late to create an environment of trust, of confidence, of value, where everyone buys in to being a servant leader within your department, within your company.

Third, once you have created this aura of trust from you to your teammates, from your teammates to you, and among the entire Team, all will know that they are free to raise issues, concerns, and problems – not to assess blame, but rather to solve problems first and then to nip in the bud developing problems.

Once you achieve this atmosphere within your Team, they will know the only “bad” question is the one they feared raising . . . and that fear will dissolve, while your Team (and company) will soar.

We truly live in extraordinary times . . . and such times provide extraordinary opportunities . . . so Carpe Diem! You may never again get such an opportunity to lead, to be led and to be a Team!

Tim: What advice would you share with young attorneys who are struggling with the stressors of legal practice?

Bil: Regardless of the attorney’s age, for any attorney stressed out due their law practice, I have 2 bits of advice.

First, why did you become an attorney? If it was for any reason other than the passion to practice law, to identify issues and solve them, to leave people and companies (for in the end, companies are merely groups of people with a common mission, hopefully) better than you found them; then you may have found the source of your stress. So re-evaluate why you are a lawyer . . . and if the fit isn’t good, find a fit (i.e. another career) that fits your passion. Then go pursue it with all the vigor you can bring to life for as the saying goes, you only get one chance to live your life, so Live The Life You Want Passionately!

Second, come Hell or high water, make time for yourself each and every day where you refuse to let outside stresses (e.g. work) interfere . . . whether it is time to exercise (which really is critical to your mental health!), read, talk with your family and friends, walk your Lab puppies (I am serious about making more time for them!), cooking, or whatever it is that gets your mind away from the stresses of life, you are entitled to that time. You have earned it, so take it . . . you deserve it . . .and if someone tries to interfere for reasons other than life or death, let them know they can go to where the sun don’t shine (so to speak)!

Tim: What do you like about being a lawyer?

Bil: Jiminy! There are so many micro reasons, it is hard to know where to start!

So let me keep the reason “macroly” simple: Being a lawyer and all that it entails – the thinking, the analysis, the learning, the “polymathness” of the law, the people contact and interaction, the problem-solving, the ups and downs, the leadership, the being led, the being part of a Team, all this, and much more – speak to who I am, to the reasons I breathe (and exhale, and repeat).

If I was not a lawyer, I can’t imagine another profession, another path in life, that would give me the fullness of Life, or Living, that being a Lawyer gives me.


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