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An evening with General Counsel

11 November 2016

Last night we attended the first of “an evening with General Counsel” series hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Piper Alderman Lawyers. It was a very well attended evening with many in-house counsel attending to hear the thoughts from three excellent, highly experienced current and former General Counsel sharing their experiences and discussing the topic “If I knew then what I know now – what advice would I tell myself (and what would I have done differently) if I was about to start again”.

There were some great insights into the careers of three very different General Counsel who answered many of the questions we often get asked by lawyers looking to develop a career as an in-house lawyer. A few takeaways resonated with me as key things to consider when developing a career as an in-house lawyer.

Network and be open to opportunity!

It was interesting to see how each of the speakers climbed the corporate ladder and the different directions their careers have taken. The key takeaway was be open to opportunity. Our advice is always that while we, as recruiters, can assist to help you find a role so often it is about using your network to further your career in-house as there is no clearly defined career path like the march toward partnership in private practice.  Each speaker had certainly done that. Whether it was a secondment, a client lunch that turned into a job offer, an opportunity to move into another part of the business in a “commercial role” or a reputation built through hard work that saw a person sought out for the role all had certainly not just “landed” their jobs by luck. They had each taken risks, sought out opportunity and put themselves out of their comfort zones to get there.

When is the right time to go in-house?

There was consensus that while typically you should not go too early there is no one size fits all. What is important is that you do need to have developed a level of commerciality in order to interact with the business. Unless you have had strong experience in the business world prior to the law, often your best bet is to spend a few years in a law firm to allow you to both identify risk and develop your commerciality.

How are the expectations different in-house to private practice?

A consistent theme discussed was how you need to be able to give advice quickly, efficiently and in terms that speak to the business (not as a black letter lawyer who thinks they are the most intelligent person in the room). You need to be comfortable in your ability to give 90% of the answer on the spot. As a lawyer in-house your job is not just to explain the law. Instead your job is to influence the business, to explain the relationship between the financial, commercial and legal issues and the consequences of a course of action or inaction.

How to manage difficult people in the business?

Some very difficult situations were discussed including one where the only course of action for the in-house lawyer was to resign in order to ensure their ethics were not called into question and their practicing certificate put on the line. You need to stand by your integrity and sometimes this means holding your position or strongly explaining to an executive that personal liability will attach to a course of action. In this regard, getting to know your “client” and understanding the personalities in the business is an important skill to have because it will allow you to use the appropriate influencing skills.

All in all, it was a great evening and the ACC’s upcoming continuing education and events are a great way to not only network with fellow in-house counsel but to gain insights and information on common issues shared by all in-house counsel.

About us & how we can help

At Peppercorn Recruitment, our Partners are both former lawyers and have a combined two decades of legal recruitment experience. We have provided frank, honest and pragmatic advice to many lawyers over their careers on matters such as negotiating salaries, drafting CVs, interview tips and tricks and of course, changing jobs.

We hope you find this a useful point of reference in your career planning, but should you wish to have a confidential discussion about how we can help, please contact either Peter or Ross on 07 3031 3625. We’re happy to help!