...the more I continue to make decisions that align with who I am the more opportunities I get to do things I love
My path to becoming Head of Legal: Sub-surface Imaging at CGG is one dotted with serendipity, perseverance and a tad bit of hard-headedness. I knew as a child I wanted to be an attorney. High school and college were spent carrying out my “plan” for attaining this. I participated in debate, mock trial and pre-law classes. Went to countless networking events, got good grades, and interviewed with all the right firms.
I prepped, plotted and strategized meticulously. But the one thing my plan didn’t account for was a worldwide financial crisis graduation year. Go Figure.
After graduation I spent most of my time studying for the Bar and agonizing over how I would differentiate myself from the other unemployed graduates. Working with local nonprofits had always been a passion of mine and the prospect of practicing law excited me. So I married the two by starting a blog a week after I took the Bar. Then I came across a clerk post from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. I immediately applied and I also applied for an internship with Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts. After gaining a great deal of experience with both I was offered a Legal Counsel Position with Weatherford International LLC. A Fortune 300 company, I was quickly able to participate in high profile negotiations and decision-making. Now, after working with Weatherford for a few years I’m transitioning over to CGG.
I’ll be the first to say I’ve had incredible experiences in-house. But I don’t attribute them to handbooks, worksheets or best practices. Ultimately, I attribute them to my focus on:
1. Being Authentic
Many people told me that going in-house straight out of law school would never happen, that real attorneys go to court and my decision to attend lower ranked schools (though accepted into top tier schools) was nuts. But I chose to take my chances with never. Decided I didn’t want to be in court. And focused on how schools resonated with me as opposed to rankings. In each instance making decisions, and using rationale, that fit me and my priorities. With the understanding that I would need to be hungry, naive and humble enough to work and overcome any handicaps or roadblocks my unconventional decisions might present. And miraculously, the more I continue to make decisions that align with who I am the more opportunities I get to do things I love.
2. Letting The Law Degree Speak For Itself
...I work hard to make my clients stakeholders in the legal process
This might tie in to being authentic but I quickly realized that my resume and email signatures make it pretty clear that I’m an attorney. So there’s no need for me to put on an attorney persona. I work hard to engage clients in a way that’s relatable. I’m judicious with suits, attend business meetings, I’m very candid when there is something I need to research and take great pride in my impeccable taste in shoes (which clients now love to ask me about). Reciprocally, I work hard to make my clients stakeholders in the legal process. If a contract needs annotating I do it. When I forward points for decisions I explain my concerns briefly and accessibly. After doing this for a few years I’ve begun to notice ownership of the process and closer relationships with legal. I get brought into matters sooner and folks seek me out as a trusted partner in decision-making and strategizing. If clients feel they can relate to you they’re much more invested in having you involved, and ultimately, brought onto the team if you aren’t already.
3. Letting it Be
...very little has come from forcing or manipulating an outcome
The lesson that has gotten me furtherest in-house is that I must learn to “let things be.” This is a lot to ask of a Type A quasi-controlling attorney such as myself. But very little has come from forcing or manipulating an outcome. When the financial crisis hit, and firm offers became non-existent, my mindset immediately became, “I’m a failure and will be forced to sell mangoes to pay down my loans” (forgot to add dramatic to the description above). But were it not for that turn of events, I would never have started the blog that has opened so many doors or applied for that clerkship that got me in-house as early as I did. There is only so much planning, plotting and prepping you can do. Ultimately, success lies in your ability to re-frame and be resilient. Can you look at an outcome and think, “What can I do with this,” regardless of whether it appears to be positive or negative? It’s when you work without expectation or anticipation and capitalize on each opportunity that more opportunities seem to present themselves.
[Erin McClarty is Head of Legal: Sub-Surface Imaging at CGG. In addition to drafting , negotiating and reviewing agreements, Erin is responsible for advising on worldwide business matters, training on contractual issues, working with business leaders to mitigate risk, supporting IT Sourcing as well as supporting and overseeing M&A activity and litigation. She continues to blog at www.notationsonnonprofits.com.
How'd You Get That Job? is part of JD Supra's In-House Perspective series, which provides in-house counsel a platform upon which to share their views and thought leadership on issues of the day, including industry news and legal developments, relationships with outside counsel, and law practice matters. To write for the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]