I recently had the honor of serving as a speaker at a New York City Bar Association panel on how in-house counsel can develop their careers.
What does it take to build a successful career as an in-house counsel? Growing as an in-house attorney involves two pathways: moving up within your current company or moving out to move up somewhere else. Either process involves Marketing, something most lawyers find anathematic. Self-Marketing, however, is essential for a successful career as an in-house counsel.
Here are a few tips from the seminar on Self-Marketing For Lawyers Made Easy.
1) Make friends with the business people in your company. Don’t just focus on your boss or the GC – build allies on the business side of your company. If there are ever cutbacks, the executives will cut the lawyers they don’t like before the lawyers they do like. And if there’s growth and a need to create a new spot for a divisional GC, the execs will push for the lawyer they like to take on that role. To be the chosen one, break down the wall that often exists between the legal department and the business team.
2) Learn about your company’s business. How do they provide their product or service? What is the competitive set? What are the business issues facing your company and your industry? Where are the opportunities? The challenges? You should do lunches or have coffee with the Department Heads. Tell them you’d like to learn about what they do, and what they must deal with every day. Show them you care!
3) Get visible in your current or targeted industry. Often to move up, an in-house lawyer needs to move to another company. This process can be facilitated by getting on the radar screens of organizations in which you may be interested. How? Join a LinkedIn group of professionals in an industry of interest. Contribute articles and comments. Join a professional association in your targeted industry, and be active in it. Let the business people in that industry get to know you and to see your value. The job offers will come!
4) Say “But Yes,” not ‘Yes, But.” Corporate executives don’t like lawyers because you often say say “No” to things they want to do but cannot do legally. “Sir, that’s a great idea, YES — BUT it violates regulation xyz….” We don’t want to hear that. What we want to hear is, “There are problems with regulation xyz, BUT YES, I think I can come up with a way around that problem.” Can Do beats No Can Do every time.
5) Learn to become a business partner. That means picking an area outside of a legal issue that you can learn about. Why? So you can contribute ideas on how to make the company better. Take a course in marketing and learn about how your company can make better use of digital media. Get smarter on information technology so you suggest ways in which new software can be used to improve your company’s business processes. Don’t think your only value to the company is to deal with legal issues. You have a brain. Use it to help your business solve problems and seize opportunities.
Lastly, as a long-time observer of the legal career scene, I have seen that many lawyers think the way to build an in-house career is to schmooze with other lawyers. They get active in Bar Association committees in hopes that the attorneys they meet there will let them know about job opportunities. OK, not a bad idea. Being on Bar committees can be great for professional development, and because it makes a Bar Association stronger and more valuable to its members. It is a worthy and noble use of your time.
However … how many people on a Bar Committee can actually HIRE you? If you want to be a GC, the answer is ZERO. If you want to be a Deputy GC, there’d have to be a lot of GC’s on that committee for you to have a shot at getting hired by one of them. Mostly, the lawyers you’d be working with on Bar Committees are your COMPETITORS. If they are law firm attorneys, they probably want to go in-house. If they are in-house and want to move up, they’ll be gunning for the same jobs you are.
To be successful in building an in-house career, focus on the folks who can hire you!
If you are looking to move in-house, or are in-house and looking for a better opportunity, call me. We have more than 25 years of experience in career management for lawyers, and unrivalled expertise in the development of successful in-house legal careers.