Many lawyers, after spending years in law firms, in-house positions, or governmental posts, decide to take on a new challenge, such as leading an in-house legal organisation as a general counsel. Sad to say, in spite of having several years of experience, they lack the required skills and understanding of the procedures that increase the scope of reaching that stage.
A general counsel isn’t only the corporate head of the legal department but also a business leader with many responsibilities. If you want to get handpicked by headhunting firms, remember that a successful general counsel is someone who combines that legal expertise with an in-depth knowledge of the organisation’s requirements. For instance, by being a reliable advisor to both internal and external stakeholders.
Irrespective of any situation, whether you’re becoming a general counsel by rising the ranks internally or by shifting law firms, it’s never an easy job. That’s why we are going to take a close look at how general counsel are selected by companies and the ways in which attorneys can make themselves worthy of the position.
A Lawyer and Leader
Many people feel that good judgement and leadership come naturally. A skilled general counsel, or any effective executive, is able to mix the instinctive with the taught. Nevertheless, traits thought to be natural may frequently be improved through practise. Most businesses look for a determined leader who “reaches for the stars” when hiring for the general counsel role. In other words, someone who aspires to do things better, comprehend the business, and achieve amazing feats on behalf of the organisation
If there is one aspect that is looked for by most companies when filing for the role of general counsel, that would be the judgement of the candidate. A candidate with strong and tested judgement has the ability to make productive decisions that align with business objectives. Also, the ability to make decisions after considering several inputs, legal and ethical consequences, and potential impacts helps in the growth of the company.
The general counsel’s workplace is considerably “messier” than a private practise, where private attorneys are compensated by the hour, placing a premium on accuracy and efficiency. To properly determine how much knowledge, time, and care should be spent on any particular subject, sophisticated judgement is needed. Risks and business possibilities are frequently balanced.
Furthermore, someone with good brains doesn’t necessarily mean that they have good judgement. The truth is, you are not required to be a great legal expert to become a general counsel. A qualified general counsel has the necessary skills and experience in constitutional law to manage cross-functional teams to deal with challenging issues including compliance, litigation, and business procedures.
It’s challenging to assess good judgement. However, when you go for a general counsel job interview, the interviewers will question you about the challenging, messy, and complicated matters you’ve handled, how you handled them, and the outcomes you got.
A great quality of a successful general counsel is having the ability to connect with various audiences. They are excellent communicators who can simplify complicated legal matters for their team with their in-depth legal, compliance, and regulatory knowledge. At the same time, the general counsel should be able to translate business goals for other legal experts.
A general counsel must demonstrate gravitas when interacting with various departments, big and small groups, stakeholders, the CEO, and other employees. The general counsel must project confidence in front of the board and the CEO by acting with consideration and substance, conveying assurance, and having the capacity to lead and follow. Even though CEOs and search companies frequently find it difficult to define a leader, they can recognise one when they see one.
Forward Thinkers and Collaborators
Executive teams and CEOs do not want their general counsel to act impartially. They want help in achieving their goals. It should be understood that successful general counsel are long-term thinkers who can see beyond the immediate and temporary events when it comes to the organisation’s reputation, profit, and legal risks.
In order to mitigate these risks and progress the company, they are inventive and proactive in their solution-finding processes. A general counsel is a genuine corporate leader who is entrusted with guaranteeing the success of the business and its executives, not just a mere lawyer.
The most successful general counsel, regardless of whether they were promoted internally or from a legal firm, stand out due to their strong, long-lasting connections. A general counsel’s career may be made or broken by their relationships and ability to succeed under pressure with co-workers, the CEO, and the board of directors.
When looking for the best general counsel, interviewers will always look at the collaborative expertise of the candidates. In private practise, it can be challenging to get this sort of expertise, but there are several things you can do to make it easier. Experience advising executives in a firm without an internal legal staff is an indication that you understand the special demands and dynamics of in-house work. Counselling a client on every legal issue they have, no matter how little, rather than just swooping in to handle significant transactions, shows you are prepared to leave private practise.
The ones who are the best general counsellors are always trusted both inside and outside their companies. They’re seen as reliable legal experts. They exhibit interest in global affairs, technology, commercial trends, and their own industries and businesses. They are prominent lecturers, writers, and presenters who frequently participate in business organisations and/or have positions on local or industry boards.
These experiences will raise your regard among peers and recruiting organisations while you look for a general counsel post. Make sure to share articles you’ve authored as well as other instances of your thought leadership with prospective employers while you interview for a position, as it’s going to carry more weight than just asserting it.
Good People Leaders
A general counsel is responsible for managing a team of lawyers and other team members. That’s why organisations look for candidates who are passionate, inspire others to grow, and are able to develop a high-performing team. The quality of attracting, selecting, motivating, and driving performance, irrespective of whether you are the only lawyer in the organisation or someone leading hundreds of employees, is something that makes a successful general counsel.
Some of the most crucial abilities of a general counsel are effective mentorship, internal talent grooming, legal function structure, succession development, and planning. In addition to overseeing crucial partnerships with external resources, such as outside consultants and outside attorneys, general counsel also decides how to bolster their inside teams and on what fee basis.
As general counsel, the CEOs and boards expect you to contribute to business matters along with the investment bankers and other leaders. They don’t just want your contribution as per your legal expertise but also in various other matters related to the business. That’s why a general counsel is expected to have an in-depth understanding of business concepts like accounting, financing, marketing, statistics, and others.
The general counsel must comprehend resource allocation and cost management as a department leader. A keen understanding of ideas like return on investment and break-even analysis aids in communicating the importance and value of the company’s legal investments.
Ethics and Integrity
The general counsel must be the highest example of unquestionable ethics and integrity because they are the top legal expert in the company. There may be times when it is difficult to distinguish between good and evil, and businesses will turn to their general counsel to help them stay on the moral and legal high ground. In circumstances where there is a hazy line between the proper legal response and the proper ethical response, they will also be crucial advisors. In conclusion, the general counsel is crucial to maintaining the organisation’s ethics and image.
Legal and Technical Expertise You Need to Be a General Counsel
- Litigation (especially class actions and investigations)
- Risk and dispute management
- Labour and employment
- Government investigations
- Corporate and securities law
- Corporate governance
- Executive compensation
- Overall broad legal knowledge
- Ability to develop legal strategies and objectives
- SEC disclosure and reporting
- Legislative experience
- Compliance knowledge
- Industry-dependent legal expertise
General Counsel is one of the finest jobs in the world. Although it involves risks and challenges, if performed perfectly, it can offer the holder of the position a great opportunity for leadership and a positive impact on an organisation. When opportunities for these roles arise, organisations and headhunting firms look for the best and brightest. It’s a significant opportunity for those who understand the abilities and skills required and are able to navigate the recruiting, selection, and hiring procedures successfully.