Challenge, Adapt, Excel, Repeat: Welcoming the Deep End

Giana Milazzo Executive Features, Legal Leave a Comment

AllScripts Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary Brian Farley adapts to evolving hurdles throughout his career while building a corporate-conscious in-house team

Brian_Farley professional pictureWorld-famous tennis player Jimmy Connors once said, “I hate to lose more than I love to win.” Brian Farley recalls hearing this quote during his days playing high school sports; he remembers it as looks back on one of the most trying experiences of his early career: serving as the in-house counsel during a company’s liquidating chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“I absolutely hate losing. When you are going through a bankruptcy process, it feels like you have lost. Once I was able to accept that, the definition of success changed from not necessarily winning and losing, but saying ‘success today is return x millions of dollars to our creditors,’ as an example. You can find pride in generating greater returns than people may otherwise have been expecting or to do better than you thought was possible. There is always a test that can come and a challenge you can rise to. I had to change my emotional state, redefine what success was, and make sure I was doing everything to succeed to fulfill that new definition.”

Though he certainly would not want to experience the emotional stress of bankruptcy again, Farley considers it the most productive professional experience of his life: a learning opportunity that tested him professionally to do his best within a challenging situation and also an experience that continued to impact him as he matured in his in-house career.

“We as a culture/corporate structure allow companies to be built, succeed, and ultimately fail – the beauty of capitalism should and needs to happen. Having been through the bankruptcy process, I realize that creates opportunities for more successful, healthy companies, which I have now been able to work with. Opportunities to obtain assets, recruit talent and technologies, and intellectual property that can prove more beneficial in a different home. All that knowledge has been very helpful in my career.”

Brian Farley’s professional development has been characterized by adaptability: he attended law school at night while working full time; he made an epic mid-career move away from his position as a level three communications technology attorney in his home state of Colorado; he was in a position of senior leadership during a company’s devastating liquidation and bankruptcy. To find a seasoned leader with over twenty years of legal expertise that has weathered such trying conditions without hardening in attitude is a true rarity. Farley’s energized, enthused demeanor shines in spite of his tortuous path to success. At AllScripts Healthcare Solutions headquarters in Chicago, Brian Farley serves as Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary. These titles alone are representative of his dynamic range as both a legal and business leader, but his journey to AllScripts truly illuminates his perseverance.

Challenges are just gaps waiting to be filled

Farley spent the bulk of his early career as a communications technology attorney. He has worked in a variety of senior leadership positions at different technology companies including Motorola Mobility from Motorola, Inc., where he led the successful global regulatory and antitrust review process for the $12.5 billion sale of Motorola Mobility to Google, Inc. When he took up the position as General Counsel at AllScripts in 2013, he faced a new challenge: making the bold move from seasoned tech attorney to novice in the healthcare industry.

In today’s world of hot-button political issues, the healthcare industry continues to excite and evolve daily: pick up any newspaper and there will be new information constantly surging about the political, financial, or national impact of healthcare.

Helping to aid Farley in the understanding of this complex community was the dedicated, talented team he inherited at AllScripts. He stresses that being inquisitive and utilizing the resources of people around him has been an incredible help in acquainting him with the interrelated healthcare community.

“We have some fantastically successful people in the industry that I will take to lunch, buy a beer, walk in their office and pick their brain nonstop.  That is first and foremost my university,” he explains with a lighthearted chuckle, “Hopefully more like a master’s degree and not like an undergraduate degree.”

Farley has been quickly learning the legal and regulatory differences within the businesses and has consistently sought to fill the gaps in his team at AllScripts. He has focused on four problem areas: employment, human resources, litigation, and intellectual property. He has brought in relevant expertise in each of those four areas to fill the gaps and has focused in particular on finding cost-effective solutions for the company. As he continues to provide leadership on the day-to-day legal affairs in additional areas including contracts, partnerships, regulatory affairs, and privacy, Farley focuses on keeping the in-house team connected with the workings of the business itself.

“Today, the effective in-house lawyer/legal team is as much a business partner as they are a legal counselor. If you want only legal counsel, there are thousands of lawyers available, here in Chicago and across the world, who can give detailed, accurate legal advice, but that’s not what the business really expects or demands.”

Farley stresses that what sets an exceptional in-house team apart from the herd is their ability to function with a high-corporate IQ and a unique understanding of the company.

“It’s about coupling sound legal counsel with a knowledge and understanding of the business. It’s finding a way to accomplish business goals given legal constraint and legal risk. It is my absolute conviction that no one in an in house legal role can be expected to combine those objectives without having a connectivity to the business.”

With a Bachelor’s degree in International Political Economics from The Colorado College, a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Colorado, and a law degree from The George Washington University National Law Center, Farley understands the importance of balancing business and legal demands.

Shaping Business-Savvy Legal Leaders

In addition to leading in-house with an emphasis on expert legal counsel on par with corporate-educated business partners, Farley has asserted other goals and expectations for his team. He sees the law department as a service component within the company. It is his mission to ensure the team is easy to do business with and as responsive to their internal and external contacts as possible.

“That includes greater technologies and innovations within the legal team with respect to contracting, training and empowering non-legal professionals to engage in certain negotiations so that we can be more responsive and quick with marketplace challenges and client requests and demands.”

Farley refers to this strategy as “the ease of doing business”; he explains, “As a law department and as a company, we have to help foster and promote that as a philosophical approach that actually turns into action.”

His first strategy in fulfilling this vision? “Hire and work with the smartest people you possibly can—people smarter than me. That’s my humble approach,” he jeers. Farley expects the leaders on his legal team not just to identify the issues, but he challenges them to solve them.

“It’s too easy to sit in the corner and identify all the problems – the challenge and the value is offering solutions to have to fix it and how to prevent future issues from arriving.”

His leadership strategy is also grounded in transparency—he sets these expectations and maintains honest communication with the HR and legal team about what is happening across the company.

“It may be a different approach than others take, but in order to increase corporate and industry IQ I’m all about sharing as much info as I can get sitting at the executive table. Sharing what’s happening within the business generally and industry broadly – that kind of communication helps both the legal, HR and compliance function better at a high standard.”

Farley takes seriously his investments in a dedicated team. In his current role, he has opened up business opportunities and partnership opportunities for the team at AllScripts that helps them develop the leadership skills to potentially take on a general counsel role someday. At AllScripts, he noticed that there were a variety of general managers running business units within the company. Farley decided to assign an individual attorney to serve essentially as the “general counsel” for each underlying business; each attorney serves as the primary legal point of contact and aligns themselves with the particular business unit.

“Lawyers should be part of the business solutions – by putting them on the staff and having them accepted as part of the business unit staff they are exposed to a lot more than pure legal issues. Marketing challenges, product development challenges, client opportunities, client satisfaction issues—these issues then shape the legal counsel that we ultimately provide at the end of the day to the individual business unit and then to the corporation broadly.”

Garnering the buy-in and support from his peers on an executive level, Farley was able to open up a business opportunity for the legal team, ultimately expanding each lawyer’s range of expertise and traditional exposure.  He stresses that facilitating this sort of intellectually challenging system is part of what makes a great work environment.

“The best way to do that is to jump right into the deep end—I think that they find it rewarding. I certainly have throughout my career. I think that is the principal reason I have been successfully professionally: my willingness to go into areas where I’m not terribly comfortable, to challenge myself professionally and intellectually and improve continually as new matters come on, creating personal success and broader team and corporate success.”

As Farley continues to gain exposure to the interrelated healthcare community and build his corporate-conscious in-house team, the narrative of his path to success proves he is comfortable being challenged to adapt in the deep-end.

“I appreciate a great deal working with people who haven’t always been sitting in the rose bushes and smelling roses all the time. I like working with people who have seen both good and incredibly challenging times. Going through challenging times tests the person’s metal. A commitment and a refusal to lose are essential. Sometimes things don’t always go as planned, but there are still great things that can happen.” ♦


“Supervisor, Superdad: Where the Jobs Overlap”

As Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Brian Farley is used to the high pressures of the office—the emotional and financial stresses, the deadlines and debates, and the nonstop legal and advising responsibilities of the job. As father to four young children, he is equally attuned to these pressures, serving his parental role as provider and protector, shelling out life lessons along the way. Farley welcomes the challenges and rewards of both roles and gives advice about the balance and overlap between the two.

Find a partner who will support you. “Let’s go back to my original philosophy on how you succeed in the office: you work with people a lot smarter than you. I married way over my head – that’s advice number one, ensure you marry way over your head. I have been married for more than 15 years and it is because of her that I’m successful professionally, but more importantly, it is because of her that I have a wonderful family life as well. That’s the biggest parallel.”

Learn from your mistakes. “My oldest is 12, my youngest is 3 – at home, we can’t cry over spilled milk. We have minor accidents, but it’s all about learning from those mistakes as your children grow and finding that balance. That happens professionally too. I know that I make mistakes regularly and I make sure those aren’t repeated, just like I hope that I become a better husband and father on a daily basis.”

Build a happy environment. “We spend a lot of time with both the people who we work with and family. We should be able to enjoy every minute. It is not worth it if you are not in an enjoyable work environment. Work on surrounding yourself with that happiness in both places. I am incredibly blessed and incredibly lucky: I admit that readily.”

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