Written by Mel Scott, Senior Legal Counsel, Megaport
I have a new starter in my team. This is her first job in-house.
As I am training and providing guidance, I have been struck by how much of what I “just know” I actually take for granted.
I did not start life in-house with all of the wisdom and insight I now possess. Like anything in life, experience helps you collect lessons along the way.
It’s taken a new starter to make me reflect on how far I’ve come and inspired me to share what I would say to myself when I was first new to in house.
Be kind to yourself.
This is new. And with all new things, there’s going to be an adjustment period. You don’t need to know everything. You will not be expected to know everything. You cannot know everything… But everything is figure-out-able.
Show up for yourself. Give yourself space to learn, to make mistakes, to grow and to own this new adventure. You’ve got the skills, you’re here, have fun. Be kind to yourself.
Relationships are everything.
As soon as possible, get out into the business and make connections, introduce yourself and start to build rapport with everyone you meet. The strength of your relationships will be crucial to your success as an in-house lawyer.
You can draw on the experiences of your colleagues and learn from them. You’ll be better able to build trust and have the business come to you in the early stages of a new project or strategy to get your input.
One of the best things about working in-house is working with people from all walks of life.
So get out there. Say hello. Be genuinely interested.
Don’t be afraid of the numbers.
Now I know that lawyers don’t typically *love* a spreadsheet. Microsoft Word is our comfort zone. A balance sheet looks like another language. And it is.
The language of business is numeric. So, start with the basics. How much are we making as a business and from where? How much are we spending and on what?
It’ll help you prioritise and ‘add value’ when you understand the business fundamentals.
Don’t be afraid of the numbers.
Keep it simple.
Your colleagues are busy. They don’t want pages and pages of beautifully crafted legal prose.
They want the answer, up top, followed by actionable next steps and if absolutely necessary, more detail in an attached appendix.
Give your advice in terms of “Yes, if” instead of straight out “No”.
Keeping your advice simple, using plain English and getting straight to the heart of the issue will make you the businesses best friend.
Talk about ‘adding value’!
Start cultivating a mindset of continuous improvement
“Legal is a cost centre. There will never be enough time, money or people. So, you better get used to it.” – Sterling Miller
How can we do things more efficiently? What improvements can be made to streamline a process? Can a process become largely self-service (ahem, NDAs!!) What legal tech (and non-legal tech) tools are available to remove duplication of time and effort?
Spend your energy on drawing out efficiencies in the process of delivering legal services to the business. It’ll pay huge dividends in the long run.
Start to deeply learn the business.
Understand what macro trends are affecting the industry and the environment in which the business operates in. Subscribe to online newsletters, read books and industry magazines, listen to podcasts, however you like to consume content and learn new things.
Your colleagues will be such a great source of information. Who do you need to speak to in order to better understand the fundamental service and product that the business sells? You will need to understand what is being sold so that you can understand the risk and give practical advice on that risk.
Knowing the bigger picture and the strategy behind why the business is taking action will help your advice be focussed, precise and more relevant.
Have fun! Seriously!
This is a new adventure. It’s a journey. You have planned this career transition. You’ve been thinking about it for a while. You’ve worked on your resume.
You’ve connected with and spoken with recruiters. You’ve drawn on your network. You’ve put yourself out there and applied for jobs. This is what you wanted and YOU made it happen.
Don’t let it pass you by in a race to get to the next thing.
Be in the moment and understand that you’re learning and you’re growing. This is exactly where you need to be right now.
It’s going to be an awesome adventure.
I’d love to hear what you think. What have I missed? What do you wish you knew on day one as a new in-house counsel? Reach out to me on LinkedIn or Instagram @theinhouselawyer.
Mel is also a member of the Crafty Counsel Community. Register to discover a space where in-house legal professionals can connect, share experiences, and learn from each other.