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Career advice for in-house lawyers – How do you move from junior counsel to general counsel?

BCL Legal in conjunction with DLA Piper explored this topic at three events held across the country, specifically London, Birmingham and Manchester.

At each seminar the delegates initially explored the importance of ‘emotional intelligence’ in the workplace. Put simply, the combination of a persons skills, attitudes and habits can distinguish a person from being run of the mill to superior in performance ratings.

The different panels included lawyers from a range of organisations, including Thomas cook, Barclays, Molson Coors, and Wilkinson stores.

Advice was wide ranging. Sue Albion the Head of Legal at Molson Coors posed the question that first you need decide if you are ‘a lawyer operating in a business context or a business leader able to deliver legal advice’.

She highlighted that in contrast to being  a lawyer in private practice, where infrastructure and support can help define personal development plans, when in-house, a lot of this comes down to you – and what you do to implement a plan.

She suggested that the following are important factors to consider, answer and develop if need be:
• Legal skills and experience
• Personal and interpersonal skills
• Self awareness and desire to learn
• Flexibility in your style
• Communication skills
• Cultural awareness and fit
• Commercial awareness; know your business and industry, bring new ideas, spot risks and opportunities.
• Decide truthfully if you are really a leader?

Other ideas that were explored include: Everybody goes through a cycle in their career. You start a new job/ project and your interest is high but your skill/ ability to do the job may be low. Ideally the cycle moves to a place known as ‘career best’ when your interest is still high and your ability to do the role is high as well. Often from there the ability remains, but the interest declines. It is important to recognise when you are slipping in to a negative position and do something about it, which may mean moving jobs or pushing for new responsibilities internally.

What is clear is to be brutally honest and confront the truth when it happens- don’t ignore the situation. Decide where you are now and where you want to be. Not where you think you should be but actually where you want to be. Sometimes external pressures mean that timing might not be right for moving your career upwards and therefore be content in biding your time.

However if you do want the next step look at the ways you might make this happen. At this point it is important to consider how others perceive you and the strengths and weaknesses that you may have.

The panel of General Counsel suggested ways that you may be able to seek support and seize opportunity: understand and use internal and external support  that might include training/ mentoring. Alternatively embrace learning opportunities that might not be obvious, such as experiencing roles outside of a purely legal role.

Most importantly, Sue Albion of Molson Coors finished by saying that anyone looking for career enhancement should hold themselves to account, measure your success (by pre-determining what success looks like) and reviewing this on an on-going basis.

There are many ways for an in-house to advance their careers. BCL Legal has assisted hundreds of lawyers do so already with many of the UK’s leading companies. For more in-house legal career advice contact the team on 0845 241 0933.

By Mark Levine
marklevine@bcllegal.com

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