Advancing as In-House Counsel
You’ve gone in house. You’ve made it right?
Or maybe you’re not in house and want to make it in house because then you’re set—right?
On the one hand, you’ve tossed away the billable hour—but that does not mean you stop growing your practice and advancing in your career.
In house counsel is a key role within any organization, and the skills required to be successful at it requires purposeful planning. Advancing to General Counsel (“GC”), who holds the reins of an entire legal department, requires you to prove yourself worthy of the responsibility. GC’s must become skilled in various disciplines, possess a deep knowledge of both legal and business matters, and be able to predict how they will intersect and affect one another.
Here are some key skills you’ll want to develop to not only make yourself as a strong candidate for in-house roles, but also to advance up the ranks of general counsel.
Once in-house, you are an intermediary between a company’s legal- and non-legal departments. That means engaging with many different members of the team in the course of your day to day, requiring you to use different terminology and vocabularies. Switching between those communication styles and languages will be critical because business concerns must be effectively communicated to legal experts, and legalese must be translated to non-lawyers.
Skilled counselors evaluate the entire situation while considering every possible outcome. They then set in motion proactive strategies to weather future changes. The very best create opportunities even in the worst of times. That ability to anticipate how the future might affect the business both legally and operationally is highly coveted in an in-house legal department, and critical for those looking to advance as a GC. In anticipation of new regulatory changes, for example, the best candidates present potential outcomes and solutions to the executive team to creatively turn a potential negative into a way to strengthen the business and industry.
Great lawyers need to understand how the issues they are resolving will impact their company’s business. This often means stepping back, and seeing the bigger picture. What trends present a threat? What trends are an opportunity? How will this resolution or decision affect the organization’s future? In everything that you do, understand how your role plays into the bigger picture. Steering the company away from a disaster or identifying new revenue-generating opportunities are invaluable abilities. An eye for catching trouble or opportunity improves with deeper understanding of the industry.
Leadership can be practiced and learned. Begin by taking initiative and connecting with leadership. Establish the reputation as the lawyer on the team who is always willing to take on more than asked for. Get credit for your projects, and be sure your contributions have a measurable impact. On top of that, make sure that your team is doing great as well by mentoring and coaching your peers and colleagues. To advance, you will need to be able to lead those around you. Build your reputation as someone who can take charge.
Broad Legal Knowledge
It may seem obvious, but remember that you are expected to possess a deep knowledge of a broad range of legal topics. Get experience throughout your career in sought after areas of law (such as compliance, labor law, executive compensation, and corporate governance). You need to be prepared for the inevitable curveballs thrown to you by executive management, whose requests and queries will often be more complex than simple.