How to be a successful in house counsel?

A very special blog post not written by me but by a group of friends, old and new, from different parts of Asia currently In-house Counsel of organizations of different sizes and culture. I have invited them to share their secrets of “How to be a successful in-house counsel in today’s market”. Truly valuable and inspirational advice to any lawyer looking to join them as an in-house counsel!

"The role of the General Counsel (GC) continues to evolve in a corporation. The requirement for a GC to be a highly skilled legal practitioner is only the entry level requirement. To be successful in this role, one is expected to be financially literate, business savvy and strategically minded. The position requires the individual to possess almost diametrically opposite attributes: Being 'hard as nails' and yet 'humble and approachable'. Fully knowledgeable of one's legal rights and ready to enforce them to the hilt; and yet pragmatic and conciliatory when required. Quietly receptive as a confidant and yet highly vocal as a lobbyist and passionate advocate. It requires one to be mentally agile and intellectually curious. Always learning from both internal and external stakeholders and audiences. To succeed, one needs to have the social skills and the EQ to connect with different and at times difficult personalities; and yet excelling at being a diplomat, politician, gladiator, mediator, facilitator and healer all rolled into one package. Highly challenging and yet deeply rewarding."

"In all matters, first understand the intended goal very clearly, and use your legal and soft skills to steer the company towards that desired outcome. Legal advice, howsoever accurate, may not be appreciated if given in a vacuum just to "check the box".”

"Language and promptness are definitely the keys"?

“Be a good listener and be practical.”

“When your clients don’t think of you as a lawyer but a business colleague who has critical thinking with legal expertise then you have won them over.”

" Adopting a business oriented approach and active internal communication makes a legal counsel a valuable member of any team."

“Be a good business partner. Know your businesses. Be an advisor in risk assessment and mitigation. Offer solutions.”

"Your first answer to the business client should never be 'no' unless it's a violation of law".

"Business clients appreciate alternatives and creative solutions"

"In-house counsel should understand how the business works"

“To add value requires the counsel to know the company’s business and be part of the business team. At a higher-level counsel has to earn and continue to keep the trust of key decision makers by continuing to deliver business oriented advice.”

Role of a GC is more of an adviser than just a lawyer. Making senior management understand complex issues and the ability to calmly resolve those is the most critical trait. You need to be a leader who can grasp issues quickly, a wise counselor and should be courageous enough to hold on to your view even if that’s not the most popular one in the room.

“In-house counsel are no longer an adviser. They are facilitators and change agents to help steer the company to achieve its goals in intelligent and ethical ways, outsmarting the competition. To do this, we have got to step in the shoes of your stakeholders and have skins in the game - (i) listen to them well, (ii) understand their underlying objective and the pain points and (iii) most important of all, speak solution in simple language (i.e. no legal mumbo-jumbo) that your stakeholders can understand!”

“Know the strategic goals of your organisation and pay attention to the changes in its business environment.”

“All successful in-house counsels have good business acumen. They should be solution-oriented and have very strong decision-making capability. They translate legal risks into business reality. A good in-house lawyer is courageous. Being able to manage downwards as well as upwards is important”.

“It’s a fun job. You get to work with people who are quite driven and creative. That keeps you on your toes and makes what you do a bit more interesting.”

“My thought is taking the time to understand the context when listening to colleagues and take the time to explain the context when talking to colleagues. My other thought is to build a wide network within the organization so you know who to reach out to.”

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