Here is a unique concept for general counsel: Have your inside lawyers act as mentors to outside counsel to help outside counsel grow, develop and learn your business and build leadership and collaboration skills for your own people in the process.

GE Capital Americas (GECA) did just that. Project HOLA began in 2010. It was developed by Barbara Daniele, general counsel of GECA, and championed by Barbara Gould, GC of several GECA business platforms. Gloria Fazzolari and Patti Dietz, two GECA in-house lawyers who lead the day-to-day management of HOLA, recently described the program to InsideCounsel.

HOLA was initially designed as a diversity effort to address the continued disproportionate number of white males working on GE matters. It has increased the number of outside lawyers who bring different perspectives, backgrounds and values to GE matters. HOLA received recognition as a best practice from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), among other internal and external organizations.

This innovative program has become an effective tool in developing skills as well as relationships for the participating in-house lawyers.

How HOLA works

Every two years, GECA GCs recommend diverse outside counsel, mostly non-equity partners and associates from GECA approved firms, to participate in HOLA. Chosen outside lawyers are paired with in-house lawyers who volunteer to participate. Participating in-house counsel mentor and develop a deeper relationship with outside counsel counterparts, and help outside counsel gain an “insider’s view” of GE’s businesses and its legal team.

Benefits of HOLA to in-house participants

Executive development: GE participants have significant opportunities to manage projects, hone collaboration and inclusion skills and present to internal groups, including senior leaders and external organizations. They also drive HOLA subcommittees that deal with the collection of metrics, organization of significant in-person events and communication with present and past outside counsel participants. These opportunities all work to enhance the participant’s executive presence.

Increased visibility: HOLA has the support of General Electric’s GC Brackett Denniston, GE Capital’s GC Alex Dimitrief and other senior leaders. Participants have greater access and visibility, including exposure to leaders in HR, legal and other departments, which has led to other high-profile projects and work for many of the participants.

Mentoring skills: Most of the GE participants do not have direct reports, and therefore, fewer opportunities to mentor internally. HOLA gives them an attorney to mentor and train, whether navigating GE forms, learning the businesses and processes or deepening subject matter expertise.

Networking: HOLA participants create internal connections both geographically and across the business. GE participants span 10 different businesses roles in 11 different cities in North America. HOLA hosts a bi-annual conference and leverages annual diversity and inclusion events hosted by other GE companies. In addition, participants are invited to external diversity conferences.

Why consider this type of initiative?

In addition to the diversity benefits, GE now has more external lawyers who better understand the company and its culture. The outside lawyers who participate learn the business and have deeper relationships with in-house counsel, making them more valuable to GE.

The participating GE lawyers are involved in a project they are passionate about, and they are exposed to continuous learning in both legal and professional development areas.

The GE people I spoke with want to share this program with other companies and agreed to make themselves available. This speaks volumes about the support of the leadership team at GE.