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In-House Counsel Survival Skills – Become the Company Hero

Published on : 20/07/2021 20 July Jul 07 2021

In-House Counsel is a role that requires flexibility. Often, your prior legal experience working 80 hours a week for a law firm is no longer applicable. Billable hours, the gold standard benchmark for a law firm, are replaced with internal projects where In-House Counsel must constantly prove their value.

Here are some survival tips for succeeding as In-House Counsel:

      1. Understand your new role and priorities

It's a misconception to think you don't have to concern yourself about client expectations because your "clients" share the same space with you. You still have complex relationships to maintain, and it would be wise to show your colleagues that you are on the side of doing business, focusing on negotiating fair agreements for both parties. Position yourself as a business accelerator and not just a risk-preventer. ​​​​​

      2. Get used to making business decisions quickly


Often you need to make the best decision you can, even with inadequate information. The impetus to move quickly is vital because business opportunities have a shelf life - any delays may mean losing relationships that impact the company's business side. 
Get comfortable with ambiguity. Strive to make timely educated guesses rather than spending your time on perfection.   

    3. Learn to say no to protect your work-efforts

If you worked as outside counsel in the past, you eagerly took on as much billable work from a client as you could get. When you move to an in-house role, you have different standards to meet. 

Are you accelerating contracts and agreements? Or are you busy doing extra work for your colleagues that is not part of your duties? Be aware when your co-workers identify their projects as "legal," even when they can do most of the proposed work themselves. Your job as In-House Counsel is to ensure you can efficiently perform the legal work before helping out your colleagues 

     4. Get a handle on the internal politics

Knowing who the players are, what they contribute, and how to collaborate with them is paramount. Avoid unnecessary conflicts by understanding your colleagues’ goals while doing your best to accommodate them when possible. Become part of the team and someone they want to include, not someone they go to as an after-thought.

     5. Offer a sensible approach that works for the business team

You're part of a business team now, and learning to be pragmatic rather than offering theoretical legal positions is your new mandate. 

Get to know how to work with your employer by grasping the subtle nuances that will support them. By understanding their unique needs, and the company's culture, you can create a spot for yourself without ruffling feathers, or worse, being seen as an obstacle to new business. 

     6. It's not about billable hours anymore

There is no need to think about increasing your billable hours anymore. Instead, it would be best if you delivered streamlined answers quickly. Your internal clients need a simple response - not a lengthy legal brief.  

     7. Commit to learning the business from day one

Prove your value by knowing the business, as well as the business professionals you work for do. Don't wait for problems to come to you – dive into the day-to-day business to find out the processes, operations, and strategies so you can provide the best value.  When offering answers after the necessary legal research, condense the information to benefit people who are not lawyers but work in other business departments. 

     8. How much risk can your company accept? 

As a lawyer, you may be in the habit of attempting to mitigate all risks. In contrast, your job as In-House Counsel is to advise of risk and understand how much risk the business can accept to keep things moving forward.  

Manage risk, don't run from it. Law firms are about reducing risks, but companies are about maximizing profit. Figure out a way to say "Yes," not to say "No." (unless it’s illegal). When "No" is the right answer, present alternatives that accomplish the business goal.

     9. You are not alone on an island. Be the hero for all departments

Legal should help shape discussions and plans for all departments - accounting, operations, marketing, and more. Take an active interest in planning meetings to help each department thrive. 

   10. Congratulations, In-House Counsel. You now have the same amount of work and fewer resources

As In-House Counsel, you quickly realize you still have the same amount of work, but the company may not have invested in the automation and resources needed to manage your projects adequately. 

What to do? Earn trust by expediting agreements. Don't be a perfectionist. Let your colleagues know you are on their side. As you deliver more value, you can prove to management that In-House Counsel is worth investing in state-of-the-art automation so you can contribute more to the company. 

In-House Counsel doesn't have the luxury of providing advice and walking away as outside lawyers do. As an integral part of the business, In-House Counsel will be around to see results and own their decisions, whether good or bad. 

In conclusion, In-House lawyers who connect with the team, demonstrate knowledge of the business, and jump into the company's culture and priorities can become valuable contributors and flourish. 

About the author: 
Legal Suite is the worldwide leader in digital transformation for lawyers. We have delivered our state-of-the-art software for lawyers, law firms, and in-house general counsel to 65,000 users for over two decades.


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