How to Best Position Yourself for the Top Legal Job


Securing the opportunity to move from the DGC to GC seat can be one of the most difficult professional moves for a lawyer. Limited opportunities, internal and external competition, and sometimes even overcoming the tarnish left from a predecessor or the organization’s negative perception of the legal department, are present issues. Despite these challenges, there are still several ways a thoughtful deputy can position themselves to be the heir apparent and take the GC seat.

Be a team player.

Demonstrate that you are invested in your team and the organization. Form as many strong relationships in the business with the second in command of the incumbent (i.e. the VP to the SVP) or the incumbent, as you can to learn the business needs, not just what your responsibility is as a lawyer in the business. This can also help as you all naturally matriculate up the organizational chain.

  • Keep your eye on the changing legal landscape, especially in highly regulated industries; read up on the laws; and become the voice of understanding inside of your department. Doing so will emphasize your interest in the business as a whole and position you as a potential subject-matter expert.
  • Try not to become overly specialized—that gets trickier in certain businesses where, for instance, IP or a specific product is a driver of the business—but if you are a bit siloed, be sure to expand the scope of that silo across as many business functions as possible. Volunteer to help your level mates with challenging problems, even if those are outside your expertise.
  • Manage your direct reports with your manager’s departmental framework, but with your own style. Do not defer management responsibility to your manager. You want to showcase your decision-making, leadership skills and judgment.

Step up to the plate.

  • Make it known that you want to learn and do more. While you should ask your manager for opportunities to assist on presenting key issues to the C-suite and/or the board (giving you exposure and access), do not entirely rely on your manager to identify opportunities for you to step into more coverage. Point them out and dive in.
  • Be deeply proactive in your protection of the organization. One way to approach this is to identify gaps in the legal coverage, particularly in areas where your strengths exist. Then talk with your manager about any gaps and take responsibility for road mapping solutions. Be clear that you are willing to step in and handle them and volunteer to take on emergent or unassigned coverage areas.
  • If your organization has a separate compliance function, ask to be the liaison between legal and compliance for internal investigations or compliance matters. A lot of business contact can come through that relationship.
  • Do not shy away from responsibility for the contract function in your organization. It is almost always a pain point in the business, and if you can solve the workflow, that will gain internal sponsors. The contracts function also has a deep connection between the business and legal department, and very few other aspects of the business will give you as much understanding of what your business does or opportunity to build a close relationship to external partners. Many a lawyer has been hired by a company after they worked on a deal with or against them.
  • Similarly, if you work in a product-driven company, ask to take the reins of high-profile products through their lifecycle. Again, this work will expose you to business partners who may be beneficial to your career down the road.
  • If you work in a global organization, look for global opportunities and position yourself to manage your function on the global level. You do not have to be a regional law specialist to manage the function in that region, but you do have to be tied into your business in a way that gives you enough information to build a strong relationship with local reports or local counsel.

Consider greener pastures.

As hard as it is to become a GC and as invested as you want to be and seen in your business, it is just a fact that sometimes your best opportunity is in another business. Keep your ear to the ground and maintain a group of trusted external sources through law school affiliates, your prior law firm experience and other business relationships, and make sure that at least a few people know your goal. Also, keep your eye on large subsidiaries or affiliates of your business that might be set up in a way to give you the opportunity to be a mini-GC or a division GC.

Trust that your ability and your need to learn and grow as a lawyer have barely been tapped—and don’t be discouraged by the fact that you may be asked to do something you have never done before. Instead, be encouraged that you are being seen as someone with growth potential. Then when an opportunity presents itself, you can thoughtfully consider it. If you are granted the GC role on an interim basis, do everything you can and in good conscience and good business practice to put your personal stamp on that department and show your leadership that you are prepared and the best choice. Your time will come if you are proactive and consistently demonstrate your drive, desire and abilities.


There is currently no related content for this person
No More Results