A few years ago, I asked a client about what he looked for in an in-house counsel and his answer changed how I thought about my job. He told me that he wanted more from his in-house counsel than just legal analysis. To my surprise, he wanted his in-house to provide him with a recommendation as to how the organization should proceed. When I heard this, it dawned on me that if I ever wanted to serve as an in-house counsel, I would have to change the mindset I had developed while serving as an outside counsel. I would need to transition from a role as a legal advisor and become a strategic business partner.
What does it mean to be a “strategic” business partner?
According to Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm, in-house counsel “must develop other attributes, such as greater knowledge of the business. The more attorneys know or learn about an industry, the better they perform as legal and business advisors; they can advise a company in the context of the business issue and are not merely dispensing pure legal advice.” Quite simply, the General Counsel must serve as more than “just a lawyer.”
The organizational leadership expects it’s General Counsel to also offer recommendations and help make decisions that will allow the organization to achieve its goals.
How do you become a “strategic” business partner?
- You must understand the organization and its operations.
- You must understand the mission and how to advance that mission.
- You must be a good communicator. It helps to understand industry jargon, but you should refrain from using “legalese.”
- You must actively work to build relationships with organization leaders.
- You must educate leaders throughout the organization about potential legal risk, help those leaders learn to anticipate risk, and to stay alert for possible problems.
What are the ethical considerations?
It is your job to, not only help facilitate desired outcomes, but it is also your job to make sure that the organization achieves its objectives in a legal and ethical manner.
You cannot be afraid to tell people what they do not want to hear. Do not overreact and keep things in perspective. Deal with the problem without emotion and do not over-lawyer.
At the end of the day, it is your job as the in-house counsel to model ethical behavior and to ensure that the ethical considerations are part of any decision.
Adopt this mindset and you are ready to move in-house.