Top 3 Skills to Build for In-House Lawyers
In our most recent blog, we explored how legal professionals can make the leap to an in-house counsel role. In this blog, we take a deeper look at the top three skills in-house lawyers need to demonstrate. First up is building credibility. Credibility in business is one of the key distinguishing characteristics between those who succeed and those who do not. But what does “building credibility” look like in practice?
To start with, it helps to understand how systems work at a law vs an in-house position. At a law firm, concerns might revolve around the priorities that a partner, client, and senior associate have, for example. The skills needed for a corporate counsel function, by contrast, involve knowing how to work with different departments that each have their own priorities--- which may or may not align.
What does that mean, in terms of building credibility at an in-house legal role?
If you’re looking to implement a new contract management technology in the legal team, for example, this means anticipating that the value-add for that product will be measured differently for each team. Accounting, for example, will be interested in spending. Sales will look at the effects on cycle time for deals. Legal will be interested in cutting down manual work in the contract lifecycle and IT might focus on privacy concerns of uploading contracts into a cloud database.
To succeed in an in-house position, you need to be able to navigate these differing priorities and be able to make every department feel heard . Additionally, employees in all these departments need to feel like they can trust your judgment and recommendations. That involves making sure you are transparent and reliable in your work.
How do you gain these competencies if you’ve never worked in-house before? Here are three skills to build:
Networking is essential for any role, and transitioning in-house is no exception. Networking is necessary not only to get you in front of people that can get you in-house, but also to build contracting skills and interpersonal skills, like interfacing with people with competing priorities. Following contract and in-house influencers on LinkedIn is a first step in doing this. You can also join local professional groups, industry associations, alumni networking groups, and more.
In order for others to trust your judgment, you need to show transparency and be seen as a reliable partner. In a practical sense, people need to see what you are working on, how fast you are completing tasks, and the “why” behind your motivations.
How can you build those feelings of trust?
· Cross-functional collaboration is one way to increase your transparency day-to-day.
For instance, when you start in-house at a corporation, make sure your finance, procurement, and engineers know who you are, and what your role entails. That may make them less nervous to bring legal issues to your attention.
· Staying up to date with technology demonstrates your reliableness.
These days, the only constant in the technology realm is that technology is continuously advancing. By staying on top of new innovations, you remain relevant and reliable, even if the nature of your work changes.
· Reporting statistics helps frame and prove your ability to be reliable while on the job.
Even if you’ve never worked in-house before, including language like “Reviewed X contracts in Y amount of time, leading to Z% increase in efficiency” in your resume provides objective metrics to define ways you add value. More immediately, these statistics help your sales colleagues know that you don’t “kill” deals.
Read, read, read. Increasing subject matter expertise increases legitimacy. Reading books like “A Simple Guide to Legal Innovation” or “The Tech Contracts Handbook,” attending conferences, taking CLEs (Continuing Legal Education classes), and joining practical industry groups (such as TechGC) on contract drafting are ways of doing this. Further, there are a multitude of webinars (such as Laura Frederick’s “How to Contract” offerings) and drafting classes at law schools that can help build your competencies and prepare you for an in-house role.
Want to learn more? Our next blog explores what schools and corporations can do to help build a better pipeline to in-house legal roles. Click here to read it.
This article was written by Memme Onwudiwe, Executive Vice President of Legal and Business Intelligence at Evisort, Jack Terschluse, Corporate Counsel & Acting Corporate Secretary, Head of Procurement at Balto, and Lynn Ma, JD Candidate at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, and was first published by the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists. It has been edited and adapted slightly for this blog series.
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