Throughout my tenure with Evers Legal, I have had the honor and privilege to chat with some of the most successful in-house lawyers in the business. In the past two years, I’ve interviewed a lawyer at the world’s largest retailer, two in the higher education field, and one from a well-known underwear brand, as well as several others from equally interesting industries.
Among this diverse group of professionals is years of exceptional legal and business experience. In every interview, I ask about the advice they would give a young lawyer hoping to be a general counsel someday. While several, consistent themes always rise to the surface, each one of these lawyers offers very personal and valuable advice from a unique perspective.
Here are some advice highlights from our 2015 and 2016 eNews GC profiles, when asked: What advice would you give a young lawyer who would like to be the GC of a company someday?
1. Develop emotional intelligence.
— Janice Block, CLO, Kaplan Inc.
2. Tap into your inner business self.
Start looking at the issues your clients face with a business eye—whether you have a business background or not. Ask questions like: How does this legal decision I am about to make affect the business strategy, the growth plan, the overall budget? Will these legal decisions affect the customers, the employees, the business model?
— Alan Bryan, Senior Associate GC, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
3. Be a trusted business partner.
When it comes to providing legal support, do it in a way that is focused on being a partner and finding solutions, not just giving answers. It is critical to be able to influence the dialog and the direction of projects and opportunities, rather than telling and dictating what can and cannot be done.
— Bill Caruso, Deputy GC, DeVry Education Group
4. Strategize your career plans before applying to law school.
The role of the in-house attorney has grown significantly and the GC role is very desirable for many lawyers today. To get there today, think about that path, and if you go off of that path, it can be challenging to get back on. It’s pretty hard without a strategy that’s well thought out to stumble into an in-house role today.
— Mark Jaeger, GC, Jockey International
5. Listen and build relationships.
Work hard and be dedicated to the company. And they have to learn the business. Businesspeople love to talk about their business. You can’t go in pretending to know their business because you don’t. You have to have an interest in knowing the business, you have to listen and build relationships with your colleagues and the businesspeople.
— Karen Shaff, GC, Principal Financial
6. Become technically proficient in many areas.
More and more legal departments are going to a model where they’re comprised of generalists rather than one practice area. Be well rounded. As a great practitioner of the law, you have to know how to think critically about issues; not think in black or white but think in the gray.
— E.M. Lysonge, VP of Legal Affairs, Churchill Downs Inc.
7. Be open-minded, flexible and nimble.
This advice serves most young attorneys well. I tell them to soak in all the advice they can get from more experienced attorneys and from business partners. Don’t discount business folks just because they don’t have law degrees.
— Meredith Ritchie, GC, Alliant Credit Union
There are some people who like staying in a comfort zone. And that’s fine, but that’s not going to position you well to be a senior GC. As a GC, by definition, you need to be prepared to deal with all of the legal and compliance policy issues that come up. You don’t get to choose which you are comfortable dealing with.
— Doug Beck, GC, Hub Group
9. Do work that you love.
Have a passion for and be active in organizations that will help you develop professionally and give you contacts. Getting business experience is a really big plus because having an understanding of not just the legal aspects, but also how businesses in your industry work can give you a huge advantage.
— Bonnie Michael, GC, U.S. Volvo Financial Services