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What Makes a Successful In-House Counsel?

Being good at your job is a multi-faceted accomplishment, and even more so for in-house counsel. What makes a good in-house lawyer? What qualities should you cultivate to ensure you are successful? Across companies, we asked various GCs what they have learned and seen in their years in the industry. Here are key steps that make for a successful in-house attorney:

1. Join a business that you admire

Working as in-house counsel means that you not only need to know the law, but you need to know the business. Taking the time to know the ins and outs of the business that you are an advisor for can only enhance your abilities. When you first arrive at a company, it is important to know the complexities of where you are working. This is not only an employer, or a client, but a partnership. If you love the business that you are working for, when you are invested in it, you automatically bring a higher standard to anything that needs to get done. The passion shines through.

2. Don’t lose your credibility

Keep your credibility. The advice that you are giving can hold the fate of the company in its hands. You need to have people trust you, and therefore your credibility must always be strong. Never put yourself in a situation in which your credibility is questioned; it can only hurt you down the line. The last thing that any in-house counsel wants is to give legal advice that is taken with apprehension. Keeping your credibility will help keep everything between you and the company positive.

3. Communicate

When people come to you with suggestions and requests, be sure to listen and take steps to resolve them. Keep an ear open with everyone. Let people know what is going on. Set deadlines and provide updates along the way. If something does happen where you cannot meet a deadline, let people know. Communication is key to not only making sure everything continues to run smoothly, but it is also a courtesy gesture as well professionally.

4. Be patient and sincere

Your job is fast paced and you can be inundated with requests or thrown in uncomfortable situations. Best in-house lawyers are experts at balancing multiple requests and not dismissing them, all while handling different kinds of people. They know how to keep a good reputation, and know when to stand up for what needs to be done. Keeping confidence and good character keeps those on the receiving end of your legal advice trusting.

5. Remember your language

Working as in-house counsel means you are no longer dealing with only lawyers. You are embedded in the business and constantly using legal jargon is a way to create distance with business colleagues. On the other side, not understanding the business terminology can have the same effect. Successful in-house lawyers make sure to not only learn terms that are regularly used and important to the business, but to have at the ready ways to describe any legal advice they may be giving. In this way, everyone is able to communicate and understand each other without any frustration of “translating,” and it opens the door to effectiveness.

There are plenty of other skills and capabilities that great in-house lawyers possess, from stakeholder management through to relationship building and influencing skills. However these are the basics that tend to bring the most return on investment at the start of in-house career and give the lawyers the time to develop the additional skills that allow the best of them later claim their place at then very top of their organisations.