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It is that time of year where everyone has had a break over the festive period and most of us have had time to reflect on the next 12 months and what they are looking to achieve. Since I returned to the office last week, I have been inundated with calls from individuals who are looking for some career advice and want to strategically plan their careers so they can take the next step and progress. One question I am often asked is how do individuals position themselves to secure that top job.
Being an ex-corporate lawyer and having focused on in-house legal appointments for the last 6 years has meant that I have spent a lot of time with a lot of lawyers… Amongst other things I’ve often thought about why and how the lawyers in senior positions have got where they are. What is it about them that has enabled them to progress? Is it down to their excellent technical legal skills, being in the right place at the right time, or is it just having the X-factor! While they all have strong personal characteristics I thought it would be helpful for me to identify some of the ways that their careers ticked the boxes when they went for and got senior positions. What I want to discuss is what businesses look for in senior lawyers and what you can do to maximize your chance of getting or improving on that senior facing role.
Given the size of the market in the regions, I think it is useful to consider senior facing roles (not solely GC roles) – after all the role of a lawyer in a business is not as linier as the traditional career trajectory of a private practice lawyer whereby there are clearly defined steps you can take to progress your career from trainee, all the way up to equity partner.
WHAT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE
Working in-house can be a totally different animal to private practice. A senior role takes many different forms – from head of legal/sole counsel in a smaller business to the regional GC of a multi national there are no hard and fast rules about what senior positions are available and – most importantly – what might suit you. Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond? Do you want to have a purely legal focus or take on responsibility for compliance areas or be a company secretary? Would you enjoy managing a team? You need to ask yourself all these questions when thinking about how you want your career to develop.
Here is an overview of some of the options are available
• Head of Legal/Sole Counsel in a smaller business – very hands on role – doing legal work
• Head of legal – small business sole counsel forming part of the management team in a business and undertaking a varied role with responsibility for all legal matters in the business where there is lots of outsourcing work and the role is very strategic in nature
• Head of Legal – managing small team in a UK business
• Regional GC Europe – with a team and reporting lines to regional FD/CEO and Group GC
• Divisional GC – managing a team
• GC of listed business – board facing senior exec role may encompass co sec responsibilities
• Co Sec role? Sometimes not as ‘enjoyed’ but required
Securing a senior position in-house is a blend of what someone wants and what opportunities are available. The successful people that I have worked with have all focused on their strengths and what roles best suit them but most importantly they have been proactive in seeking out opportunities.
Progression in-house takes may forms but it is important that you make yourself attractive to your own businesses and the market.
My next blog will discuss what companies are looking for.