The honeymoon phase does not last long for a new general counsel (GC) — on day one of your new job, you are going to start learning about all those things that could not be disclosed during the courting phase, whether out of concern for protecting the attorney-client privilege or out of concern for not scaring you away. Still, there will usually be a period of time when you first start when you can identify issues and make changes with support from management. Given that brief window of time, where should a new GC start? The top ten list below is based on discussions with a few of my nonprofit general counsel friends, as well as my experience working as outside counsel for organizations that recently hired new in-house counsel. While not comprehensive, it hits the important points to consider in your first weeks and months on the job.
Let’s start with the obvious one — a new GC should immediately familiarize himself/herself with all active litigation in which the organization is a party or otherwise closely involved (e.g., as a recipient of a third-party subpoena). Nonprofit organizations can be complex and far-flung entities, so do not assume that the files you inherit from the old GC will have all the necessary information. Many nonprofits that engage in advocacy, for example, may file amicus briefs regularly and it is not unheard of for the public policy department rather than legal to guide those activities. Also, larger nonprofits with sophisticated human resources departments may keep information on EEOC or state agency employment filings in human resources. The important point here is that you need to be aware of pending deadlines, budgets, and organizational exposures as quickly as possible...
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