August 21, 2023
Words of wisdom from those who have walked the walk before you can go a long way in providing reassurance, clarity and inspiration. Fortunately, we know quite a few seasoned GCs who were good enough to share their top tip on how to thrive in-house.
“Find out who your stakeholders are and spend time and energy building and maintaining relationships with them very regularly.”
“Remember your ethics….by that, I mean you must remember that as an IHL, you fail at one of the SRA’s principles every day – you cannot be independent when you are adviser to your employer. Every day, therefore, make sure you do everything you can to retain your independence as much as possible and live by the other principles. It is much easier to do this if you talk about them to your colleagues before there are issues so they expect you to approach issues in that light – with honesty; with integrity; encouraging EDI; in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the profession; and, most importantly, in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice
Yes, you should also act in the best interest of your employer but that (explicitly) is subservient if there is a conflict.
And, if I am allowed a second (related) one: surround yourself with fellow IHLs and discuss these things with them – especially when you might have a challenge. They can help you work out what to do and support you in having the difficult conversations as they arise. You are not alone….”
“My top tip would be to invest heavily in your community - within the business and within your network.
Within the business it will make your life easier and more enjoyable. Easier because people will remember to involve you as they are used to chatting to you anyway. More enjoyable, because it’ll give you access to a wide range of different personality types (not just lawyers) and you’ll feel more involved with what is going on in the business.
Within your network, don’t underestimate the power of connection with your peers. Being an in-house counsel can be a lonely place (especially if you’re a sole counsel) and knowing that you have a community of people in similar situations as you is really beneficial. It’ll also mean that you have people on hand to exchange ideas with.”
“My top tip is to be positively human! Be yourself, bring humour and positivity to your work, and connect with your colleagues on a personal level. The rest will follow...”
"My top tip is to enjoy testing conversations. This might sound counterintuitive but bear with me.
When I worked in private practice (cliché klaxon) and at the start of my in-house career I internally framed giving hard advice as just that – advice stakeholders didn’t want to hear. And the people-pleaser in me has never enjoyed conversations like that.
Now I am a bit greyer (literally) and after more time in-house I realise these conversations are the ones you need to have for many reasons. There are always red flags and bright lines which you need to be clear on. But there are also times when risk appetite is very important and I don’t think practice (at least at the more junior end) prepares you well for that.
That is why these conversations are important. But why should you enjoy them? Because they’re often the ones which are the most challenging academically, and which require the most creative thinking to reach a solution. And if you’re lucky with the culture where you work, everyone can be honest, giving you the clearest insight into how your business really operates.
Sounds fun, no?
My shorter parallel tip is to read Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck. I read it when I was gearing up to join Fever-Tree (my first lead role) and it had a really big impact on me. Everything hard is an opportunity to learn, not an opportunity to fail.”
“My top tip is to be a sponge! Learn the business, its culture, its risk acceptance levels and then ensure to stay up to date with the latest business developments. This can be a challenge depending on the business' activities but it is something that will massively help especially when you are a part of a smaller team and you therefore need to respond to various needs and ultimately be a generalist.
And if I can squeeze in a second one, it’d be to build relationships with as many stakeholders as possible from day 1. Strong relationships = thriving as a trusted legal business partner. This doesn't mean you have to be an extrovert. Introverts can really be great at this too!!”
“My top tip would be to make a real point early on of trying to help people in different teams out, even if it means going out of your way. If there’s a task you can do for them which shows them how helpful legal can be then that really helps to build a rapport and their buy-in to future projects which might not be as interesting or helpful to them directly. It’s really important for legal not to just be regarded as a back-office function which only has relevance if something goes wrong.”