Or, how I became general counsel at a big company in five (not necessarily easy) steps:
1. It’s your network.
Wherever it is you want to end up, it’s your network; start now and build it. The people that networked me into my current job are people that I worked with 25 years prior to taking my current GC position. They were outside counsel for the company I ended up at. I maintained those contacts all that time. It wasn’t hard, and it’d be even easier now with all the social media tools available to manage your network. But beware, LinkedIn and Twitter are good tools, but real relationships matter more than how many links you have on LinkedIn or followers on Twitter. BTW, make your references clients, not other lawyers.
2. It’s your broad based life experience.
The more you know about everything - not just the law - the more likely you are to move into the covenanted position.
Are you one dimensional or do you have a variety of life experiences and interests? Remember, as in-house counsel, you will be primarily interacting with business people every single day. People that do not want to discuss the 2nd Circuit’s most recent decision on stop and frisk, they want to talk about life… and if you don’t have one, you don’t fit in.
3. It’s your broad based legal experience.
But knowledge of law and experience still matter, of course. Whether you move up the ladder in-house to your GC dream job or you move outside to inside, your shot at the job is also function of the broad base of your experience. I purposely was counsel in a variety of roles from Trademark Counsel to Employee Benefits Counsel to M&A Counsel – I even pulled a two year stint as Director, Insurance and Risk Management. Touch all the bases if you want to make it to home plate. The fun of being a GC is that you are the last generalist in the practice of modern law, but to be the last generalist you have to have done all those things. Jack of all trades, master of none is not quite true, but it’s pretty true.
...half the advice you give on any given day is more likely to be business advice than legal advice.
4. It’s your business savvy.
Do you know a good business deal when you see one? Do you understand not just how to do the deal but why it’s important to do the deal? Can you read a financial statement? No one hires in-house counsel so they can hear “no” all the time. If they do, it will be a short career in the corner office for you. Your job is to figure it out, be creative and explain/manage the risks. Unlike outside counsel THAT CAN WRITE LONG CYA OPINIONS, you are expected to take calculated risks, advise your business partners on THOSE RISKS WITHOUT USING A SINGLE FOOTNOTE. Not only that, half the advice you give on any given day is MORE likely to be business ADVICE than legal advice.
5. It’s your work ethic.
Anyone who thinks that telling the in-house hiring person that you want to get out of your firm because of work/life balance is making a big mistake. In-house counsel work every bit as hard as outside counsel. Amazingly, I have had people tell me this WORK/LIFE point as if I’d sympathize. I don’t. You might want to move in-house for some better work/life balance, and maybe you can get it. But nobody wants to hire you so you can work less hard. Talk about how hard you work and would work in the in-house position – explain how your work outside has prepared you to go the extra mile in-house. Ask if the company’s fitness facility is open 24/7 because you never know when you can get your workouts in.
That’s it. Five steps that you need to take the time to master. But if you don’t master them, you won’t be in-house anytime soon.
Oh, and no typos in your resume – OK?
[Richard Russeth is Vice President, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel at Leprino Foods Company, a worldwide company with $3+ billion sales. He applies his broad legal skills, inclusive and collaborative management style, and deep business experience to advance the global business objectives of Leprino through the ethical yet creative management of its legal, risk management, compliance, transactional and litigation needs. Connect with Richard on LinkedIn or Twitter.]
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.]