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Advice for Lawyers Aspiring to be General Counsel

Many lawyers aspire to the role of General Counsel early in their career. There is no single pathway to reaching the role of GC, but that does not mean there aren’t important steps and details to plan for. There are important steps that can be taken early in your legal career that can help properly position you for the opportunity.

First, determine what kind of GC you will be/that you will be required to be:

Regulatory: will you be required to navigate federal, state, and global authorities? Have you proven that you can handle this by your litigation experiences?

Boardroom: are you expected to be an expert in corporate governance and securities law—AND balance that with sound business judgment in a corporate environment?

Growth: will you be expected to execute plans to take an organization through a merger, acquisition, or expansion?

Operational: will it be your role to increase efficiency, drive down costs, establish financial parameters, and build greater engagement and satisfaction?

Second, do an inventory check on whether you have demonstrated the following traits that the very best GCs demonstrate.

The role of GCs have evolved from a mere “counselor” to a member of the team who is fully capable of handling everything that the modern corporate world will throw. GCs are expected to show that they are:

Trustworthy: they are personable, inspiring, and charismatic—their presence and engagement allow them to work well with executives, partners, and team members.

Humble: they seek and accept feedback, provide feedback, and are approachable and caring. They understand the importance of the business and their “sole” client.

Innovative: they are able to look beyond the present complexities, create and innovate new approaches, and execute forward looking solutions.

Agile: they know how to navigate risks and ambiguity, and can handle imperfect and evolving bodies of information. In addition to being a smart risk-taker, they are also able to help mitigate risks and identify the best course forward through market and regulatory obstacles.

Practical: they are able to deliver the expected outcomes, eliminate strains on the business, and help the organization accomplish more.

Third, from your current position, take the time to develop the following interpersonal skills:

Emotional Awareness: lawyers are able to be intellectually, factually, and legally aware—what distinguishes outside counsel from inside counsel is the ability for the lawyer to be aware of the emotional ties and personal needs and views of others. Attorney recruiters look for candidates that can demonstrate a track record of emotionally intelligent behavior as an indicator of their capacity to progress in their careers.

Relationship Building Skills: it is important to cultivate respect and trust from your colleagues and community. This indicates to attorney recruiters that you have what it takes to progress in your career. More importantly, it shows you are able to listen and learn about the business you might be working for (an important quality when working as a team on complex legal issues, which GCs are expected to do).

Flexibility: demonstrating a willingness to work on a wide variety of legal issues and to approach them with an open mind will lay the foundations for a potential career as a GC.

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