Your First 100 Days as General Counsel: How to Expand Your Impact in A New Organization


Upon taking office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt got right to work creating and passing legislation to alleviate Americans’ suffering caused by the Great Depression. His very productive first months in office—now known as The First 100 Days— set a precedent for leaders who want to make an impact quickly.  

As a new general counsel, you can emulate FDR by setting a vigorous agenda in your first few months in the role. This is the time to learn the business and establish yourself as a leader.

So, where should you focus your energy during this crucial period? Of course, you will want to get an in-depth understanding of the legal matters that your team is dealing with (as lawyers, we love getting to the details!). And you should do that. 

However, you will speed your effectiveness as a problem solver and advisor for the business if you broaden the aperture in those first 100 days to focus on learning the business, building your own credibility and beginning to formulate a strategic plan for the legal function. 

Get to Know the Organization

Every business is different and gaining an understanding of your company is imperative. (This is true even if your prior role was in the same industry as your new gig.) To understand the totality of your new  organization, learn as much as possible about:

  • The business—What are the drivers, the risks, and the opportunities? What are the strategic goals for the year and for the next five years? How has and can the legal team help drive business results? Who are your competitors and where are you positioned within the market?
  • The culture—How do things get done at the company, including airing and resolving of conflicts and difficult issues? What are the organization’s core values and how are they lived every day?
  • The senior management team—What are their hot-button issues? How do they lead their respective teams? Who are the sources of institutional knowledge? How have the GC and each individual leader worked together in the past? 
  • Your CEO—It is especially important to begin to understand the CEO’s point of view. What are the most important things that he or she is thinking about? How does your CEO engage the senior leadership team to solve problems and grow the business? As you learn how your CEO thinks, you will develop an intuition about not only the problems facing the business today, but what risks may lie ahead.
  • The legal team—Assess the strength of your new team.  Do you have the right skillsets on the team? Ask your legal team members if they are satisfied with their roles. Are they working to their potential or do they believe that they can do more?

Build Your Credibility

As you begin connecting with the management team, your legal team and others within the organization, you want to demonstrate your own credibility as a legal expert, an advisor, and a business leader.  

How do you do this?

  1. Show up prepared. 
    • Board meetings and other corporate events such as shareholder meetings present opportunities where the GC has a role.  Make the most of these meetings by understanding the issues being discussed and having a point of view.
    • Urgent legal matters are where application of your expertise will be crucial. If the company is involved in active mergers, or litigation, understand the current state of the matter and make sure you are positioned to help drive those matters to successful resolution.
  2. Be the leader you would like to work for. Model behaviors that inspire confidence and enthusiasm in others:
    • Be yourself.  The best leaders are authentic; they bring their whole selves to work. Share as much as you feel comfortable doing, with a goal of creating a supportive, open, and inclusive culture.
    • Listen more than talk. These first months are the time for you to absorb massive amounts of information about your new organization.  Ask questions to understand more.
    • Solicit opinions.  Ask the board, the CEO, the management team and your in-house lawyers what they think are critical areas of focus for you and your team. People will be happy to share their thoughts with you.
  3. Formulate a Plan

    As you gather more information, you will begin to develop a point of view as to how to increase the impact of the legal function.  You can use your first 100 days to think about how you will spend the company’s precious legal resources for maximum impact. Consider the following:
  • Start to envision the future. What issues will the legal team be working on in a year, or 3 years from now?
  • Assess and inventory the skills you need on the team—today and looking ahead as the business evolves.
  • Be conscious of cost. Consider how you can deliver necessary, high-quality legal services within budget constraints. Can technology provide leverage to the lawyers and paraprofessionals on your team?
  • Share your point of view and evolving vision with your CEO, getting his or her input to ensure that you are aligned with the CEO’s thinking and working on the issues that really matter.

Your first 100 days can be a frenetic time: so much to learn and so little time! However, if you take the time to focus on the whole business and build relationships, as well as learning the ins and outs of the legal team, you will build a strong foundation for your team and for yourself. Doing so  will serve you well in the long term.


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