1, 2, 3 – MAKING THE LEAP IN-HOUSE
So, you have made the decision to transition in-house – what’s next? As the in-house legal sector in Australia continues to grow, we are receiving more and more interest from fee-earning lawyers looking to make the jump from law firms into the corporate sector (sorry for stating the obvious).
Ever increasing numbers of corporates, large and small, are seeing the value in bringing legal expertise inside their walls, in order to reduce their external spend, avoid regulatory or legal hurdles before they present themselves and increasingly, to utilise the perspective of a lawyer on commercial strategies. This often means that a business will require a particular skill set or line of experience depending on the industry, size of the organisation and existing legal function.
The most frequent questions I receive from lawyers seeking these greener pastures revolve around what portion of experience to highlight and how to best market oneself to a corporate. I asked a number of General Counsels to share their top tips on making the transition and what to consider before making the plunge and what to expect once in the mix.
1. ASSESSING THE ROADMAP & REFINING THE SCOPE
Think mid to long term and ask yourself where you want to end up – be selfish. What industry? What size organisation and what size team? Where am I willing to commute to? Do I want to work overseas now or in the future? Am I willing to diversify my skill set? Is there a specific area I really want exposure to?
Although the in-house marketplace may not be massive in comparison to some of the more recognised global commercial HUBs, it can still be quite daunting stepping into the fray to begin your search. So it’s important to do yourself the service of trimming down your personal preferences before you begin. Yes, you may have to compromise on some of the criteria at a later stage, but this will provide a lot of focus when exploring companies and role descriptions, and ensure you remain consistent.
Remember, unless it’s a specialism, many in-house counsel positions will require you to ‘wear many hats’ from time to time, so you should gauge your own interest in a generalist role before applying. Areas like privacy, compliance, regulation, risk management and CoSec responsibilities are becoming more and more prevalent, especially in small businesses, start-ups or just lean legal teams.
Alongside the usual commercial advise and trade agreements/contracts, you may regularly have to advise on matters such as employment, insurance, property and dispute resolution – to ensure you retain the appetite for a given role, try to find out the scope of work early on.
2. RAISING THE CURTAIN
How do I present my experience? What if I haven’t done that before? Almost inevitably, you can come across a vacancy which is of great appeal, but you notice a number of new and unfamiliar areas contained in the responsibilities or a “unicorn” requirement in the description which you don’t meet and suddenly, all feels lost. Don’t fret and focus on what you can control. It’s a good first opportunity to showcase your commercial acumen, strategic thinking and how you approach problem-solving.
Often, the best way to do this is to acknowledge the shortcoming and offer a solution. You may have alternative experience which can assist in the transition into a new area, or at the very least you can offer some enthusiasm for tackling it.
When presenting your experience in a resume or interview scenario, look to your work at the law firm to date, and what can be translated as relevant examples or evidence. Your deals or transactions, advisory matters, disputes and advocacy work in order to find some common ground to reference.
If you have been fortunate enough to have spent time on secondment or had prior alternate industry experience (an internship or different career), the transportable and relevant experience should be fleshed out as much as possible – throw the kitchen sink at it. Include the full role synopsis, major projects and achievements and all of the stakeholder relationships you held during your tenure there.
3. THE GENESIS PHASE IN YOUR NEW ROLE
What to expect and how to approach the first few months in the role. The initial expectations on new counsel will be that you go and learn about the business promptly and engage with the various teams – sales, finance, ops, HR, IT and where possible, management and the executive group. This should naturally happen in conjunction with your core responsibilities day to day.
You will often be looked upon to translate legalese into layman’s terms, so having a firm grasp on the business’ vision, strategy and core mandate will help you greatly in communicating succinctly.
It goes without saying that the above responsibilities indicate you’re going to have a lot on your plate early doors – so it may be prudent to leave any misconceptions about ‘better work-life balance’ or ‘flexible working’ outside, until you are at least through probation, settled in and running at a competent speed. Of course these are incredibly important pillars in the modern working environment, but don’t shirk at the need to roll up your sleeves to solidify that invaluable first impression.
Be excited. You’re going to be challenged and you’re going to be involved in some situations which are completely alien to you but now you will be heavily confided in to be the subject matter expert and decision-making comrade, rather than solely the advisor. So not only should your self-confidence receive a boost, but you will have the platform to unleash all that commercial savvy you have bottled up during your time in the services sector.
Once you have accumulated some time in-house, new doors can present themselves to you as you become ingrained in the operations of a large or medium-sized business. With a new wave of C-Suite executives possessing legal backgrounds taking charge around Australia’s most established organisations recently, the time has never been better for aspiring lawyers to make the move in-house.
If you are in the early stages of considering a move to the in-house legal space, or if you are currently working in-house and curious about what else lies outside, feel free to reach out and connect. Mark Fitzpatrick on 0401 916 068 or firstname.lastname@example.org