Every week at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week, we round up some thoughts from our community members on their favourite parts, and the biggest challenges, of being an in-house counsel.
Being at the heart of the business…
Many of our in-house legal community members say the best part of being an in-house counsel is the connection to their businesses’ core.
Emily Garvey, for example, General Counsel at the Westcoast Group notes that her favourite part of her role is getting to work with every aspect of the business. “There’s nothing that legal doesn’t touch,” she says, adding that this has allowed her to learn a lot about the business itself alongside being an in-house lawyer.
This is particularly true for those who run a tight legal team, such as Alex O’Connell. He heads up a lean team, with only one other lawyer, and together they “manage the whole business”. Alex says he loves being part of a company that prides itself on “being quite lean” and it means that his days are “ very full and very varied” and he rarely does “the same thing twice”.
Similarly, Contis’ General Counsel Adeola Adebonojo is fascinated by business strategy, so much so that she even took the time to complete an MBA, which can be put to work as an in-house counsel. “It’s hard doing the day-to-day and supervising that, but you see everything that affects the business and having your colleagues wanting to hear your view is a huge attraction,” she explains.
Giving a bit of advice for those who would like to find themselves at the heart of their companies’ decision-making, Liiv’s General Counsel Harj Gill says that “part of the strategic conversation about the direction of the business” is more than just bringing legal skills to the table: it requires a “mindset shift, thinking more like an executive sponsor”.
This mindset drives in-house lawyers to have a thorough knowledge of all key departments within an organisation, which “only enriches your experience as a good adviser”. Having a big-picture view also means “you have more visibility to influence a conversation or to bring in considerations that may have not otherwise been factored in”.
… without letting the business consume you
Being an in-house counsel is not without its challenges, especially in businesses which have fairly small or new legal functions.
Resource is the biggest challenge when you’re running a small legal team, says Medigold Health’s General Counsel Sebastian Goldsmith. “There are so many things I want to do that would make the business more efficient but you can’t implement them all” when dealing with “day-to-day” legal tasks or with a lean budget. He is strategic about how he spends his resources; and shares how he is looking into different Legal Matter Management software platforms currently. But, he is careful about adopting the wrong legal tech or too hastily.
Meanwhile, Ben Miller-Bridgland, Senior In-House Counsel at Moneybox, says that because his legal team is still in its infancy, there is still some work to be done in integrating it with the rest of the business. This includes helping them understand what ought to be sent to legal and what does not necessarily have to be something the legal department has to oversee or be part of.
Ben explains “ there is a tendency in many businesses to rush to the legal department for most things, if there are words on a page,” he says people tend to think “that must be for Legal”. “Sometimes it’s quite tricky to set those boundaries and allocate whose responsibility is whose, but it’s all part of empowering the business,” he says.
While some see it as a pro, some community members have told us that being such a close part of the business can be a challenge. Emily, for example, says that there is only one client when you work in-house. “You live, eat and breathe your client and there’s no getting away from it”.
Hui Min Langridge, Head of Legal at Aptos, shares this challenge, saying that it has been essential for her to create a healthy distance between her own self-worth, identity, and work. “If you have a healthy mindset about yourself, then a lot of these internal or external conflicts get viewed in a more positive light and it gives you the resilience to face these challenges head-on,” she says
All in all, most members of the Crafty Counsel community should seek to find a healthy balance between the needs of the business and one’s own needs. Ed Walker, General Counsel at Abellio, believes that at the end of the day, we should take our jacket off, hang it up, and tell ourselves we did a good job, so we will be ready to “take on the next challenge”. Ed believes that without this ability, working in challenging and high-pressure situations will have an inevitable impact on a person’s mental health and well-being.
Hanging up your jacket requires you to also put down your phone and laptop, and ensure that they are in a separate room at night so that you can truly switch off before the start of another busy day. Difficult to do in practice, but vital to survive, he says.