What does it look like when a young lawyer takes the General Counsel reins at a business…but they’ve never been a GC before? How should they navigate the business environment when they’re the only lawyer? Last week a couple members of the in-house channel inside LawyerSmack told a new GC how to improve and grow into their role.

But a few more in-house members came in alter and had a few more things to cover. So here is a part 2.

The original players:

  • David – Young lawyer, new general counsel for a agricultural business
  • Rahil – Corporate counsel at a communications company
  • Chris – Corporate counsel at a tech company

New additions:

  • Amy – Corporate counsel at a large manufacturing company
  • Mark – Associate GC at a government entity
  • Brooker – IP Counsel at a tech company

A Noob Lawyer’s Guide To Being General Counsel Part 2

Amy [8:33 AM] Jumping in because I missed the earlier convo and just read Keith’s post. I think a weekly one-on-one with your complaining VP and your supervisor will be critical to success. It shows you’re thinking about things they need, and it’s a routine to make sure that everyone stays on the same page

Anything that they measure your performance by should be something that you can make sure you have some measure of control over, as well

And when the business wants my input, I almost always ask first “Why? What’s our ultimate goal here?” Because it’s a lot easier to either tailor my advice, or make sure the correct stakeholders are looped in to make these plans a success.

Rahil [8:35 AM]  “Why? What’s our ultimate goal here?” Yessss. Because they’re all idiots and don’t know how to give us the info we need.

Amy [8:35 AM] Exactly! That’s where the truth comes out, honestly.

Rahil [8:36 AM] They don’t even know what they want.

David [8:36 AM] I like the weekly meeting and yes ultimate goal would be good to know.

Rahil [8:36 AM] We have to tell them. (I definitely don’t have a god complex.)

Amy [8:37 AM] My company has a strong culture of weekly one-on-ones with our supervisors and with heads of other departments that we work with closely. If nothing else, it gives you some routine and accountability because you know you’ll be talking to people each week about your projects.

Mark [8:37 AM] As you are the first counsel David it will likely also take awhile for the VP to understand that your advice will often be “This is ultimately a business decision” with assistance in weighing the costs and benefits of both sides.

Amy [8:38 AM] Exactly. I often tell my business folks “Listen, you can do this if you want. I just want you to be aware of what the risks are if you do.”

Rahil [8:38 AM] That’s a good one too.  They will often try to get you to make the decision to bless it, even when it’s totally theirs.

Mark [8:39 AM] Agree with what everyone else has said about weekly meetings. Even in my position (as Assoc GC) I do weekly with the GC just to touch base and make sure we are on the same page, no pressure points have come up, etc. – and she reports down with info from the VP-level and I report up with info from the trenches (as that is how our duties fall).

It will also help you in shifting from your VP the responsibilities you should actually have. My guess is they are still handling a lot of things that should rightfully be in your court. The weekly meeting will let you say “Hey, I got this”

It took a few months for my GC to fully let go of some of the things that she had done, but were better in my court.

David [8:41 AM] This week i need to get through a review of our companies and figure out what needs to be done to bring it up to date including setting up the org docs, shareholder/LP/co-tenancy agreements.

I want to get through that for all of our current project companies and review with the VP on Friday. To show him I’m working on it and get confirmation on the structures.

The Language of Business Is…Excel

Mark [8:42 AM] Good call. And if your VP is anything like the folks I work with…they _love_ spreadsheets.

David [8:42 AM] yessssss, i made a spreadsheet once and he loved it that’s an amazing idea.

Amy [8:45 AM] Yes. Spreadsheets (we also call them matrices) and Powerpoint decks with lots of smart art standing in as words are the language of the business.

Chris [8:46 AM] You mean matrixes

Rahil [8:46 AM] if they’re for the VP and above, they’re Execumatrixes.

Brooker [8:46 AM] My GC loves a slide of open tasks with flags for on track (green), behind schedule (yellow), and blocked (red).

Amy [8:46 AM] Oh yes. Heat maps of where we stand

Rahil [8:47 AM] Hnggg, love conditional for Marking according to deadline and completion.

Mark [8:47 AM] You guys are so fancy.

Chris [8:47 AM] We like to do “Playbooks” – that say things like “Good momentum” and “Relationally positive.”

David [8:48 AM] Man you guys are super fancy.

Chris [8:48 AM] Which are basically words for “No real terms but we did have fun at happy hour last trade show” 🙂

FYI – This doesn’t just happen in the in-house channel either. The same thing happens in solo, IP, criminal, etc. If you need a community of lawyers helping lawyers, then join LawyerSmack.

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