Do you really want to be a General Counsel?

As we head into the New Year many people take the time to reflect. Reflection often involves inventory of one’s career. As legal recruiters, my colleagues and I are often asked by both in-house and law firm attorneys about GC positions and what it takes to land one of these coveted roles. We are all able to give interested candidates the low down on the requirements and skills it takes to be a GC; however only the candidates themselves can really determine if that is what they truly want to do and if such a position is the best use of their talents.

Today’s in-house market does not necessarily require just training in a certain substantive area of the law to obtain a GC job or succeed. It is both the hard and soft skills that a lawyer has innately or developed over time, which are the keys to success. One way to look at it is that hard skills are the “General,” and the soft skills are the “Counsel” in the GC role.

  • Hard skills – the “General”
–      Well rounded legal background
–      Exposure to a wide variety of legal issues that occur in a business setting
–      Management experience in a law firm and/or in-house setting 

 

  • Soft skills – the “Counsel”
–      Management/leadership skills
–      Gravitas
–      Inherent willingness to be a generalist
–      Ability to trust in the expertise of others
–      Exceptional communicator
–      Intellectual curiosity
–      Business orientation
–      Team player and leader (both are required)

 

So do the above describe you? Be honest with yourself. If you are going to be both successful and happy in a position, you must be aware of your personal preferences, the things you naturally do well and enjoy doing, and also your limitations and dislikes.

Regardless of background, the following abilities are required of a GC: (1) think strategically about relevant legal issues; (2) be strategic about business issues; (3) inspire confidence and trust; and (4) combine business sense and the talent to manage in order to lead a team.

Take your personal inventory a little further. Below are some additional characteristics to consider. These are the behaviors that MLA’s clients often look for in their GC:

  • Sense of urgency for goal achievement
  • Varied activities
  • Multiple, simultaneous projects
  • Multi-tasking
  • Fast-paced environment
  • Results focus
  • Idea generation, innovative and creative problem solving
  • Rapport and relationship building focused on achieving results
  • Engage commitment of others
  • Problem solving orientation
  • Risk taking
  • Action-oriented and somewhat collaborative decision-making
  • Quick decision making in response to changing conditions
  • Extroverted, confident, enthusiastic, persuasive
  • Influences, stimulates others to action
  • Collaboration focused on results
  • Authoritative leadership based on generalist expertise, knowledge of systems
  • Directive leadership to assure business results are achieved
  • Delegation of details as necessary, with follow up on timeliness and quality
  • Accountability for results

Maybe you are not a big picture, generalist who is looking to manage a team. We have seen specialists in huge demand, and they are highly-valued and well-compensated, particularly in heavily regulated environments. See for example my recent blog post about ethics and compliance: Ethics and Compliance Take Front and Center at ACC. A specialist in a corporate legal department is a strategic thinker at a micro level.

Gone are the days when a company or firm took responsibility for a lawyer’s career and development. You are responsible for being honest with yourself and truly knowing what you want to do and why. Take some time as the year draws to a close and a new one beckons to inventory, evaluate and analyze where you can best serve the legal profession, and your legal career will in turn serve you in the best ways possible.

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Andrea Bricca is a Managing Director for Major, Lindsey & Africa and focuses on the recruitment of attorneys for in-house roles in the Southwestern and Mountain Regions. She began her legal recruiting career in Los Angeles in 1998 after serving as a Manager of Ethics and Business Conduct for a Fortune-100 diversified manufacturer. Currently located in Las Vegas, Nevada, she has developed additional expertise in talent acquisition for the gaming, gaming technology and hospitalities industries.

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