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A role as a first time sole legal counsel can be fun, demanding and very broadening to your experience. I've undertaken this role in an organisation that hadn't had an in-house lawyer before and I learnt a lot from it. For anyone undertaking such a role, my two part blog deals with some of the “top tips” you might consider. Here are the first five:
1. The level of the role
It is important that the organisation that you are joining recognises the importance of the new legal function. Some organisations will have identified the need for an in-house lawyer but not thought through or appreciated the added value that you can bring. In interview, make an opportunity to demonstrate your commercial as well as legal skills; cite examples of things you have done in previous roles that show you can add value to the organisation over and above just “doing the legals”.
2. Who you report to
Ideally you’ll be offered a position that is a direct report of the CEO but, if the job offer says you are to report to the CFO or COO, I suggest you question it. See if you can get the position changed so that you report to the CEO. Remember that, in doing so, you’re maybe treading on the toes of the CFO or COO; you don’t want to make an enemy of him or her, so be tactful. Be prepared to turn down an otherwise appealing job that doesn’t report into the CEO directly nor has a place on the Executive Board. Why is this so important? Because Legal is not a subset of Finance or Operations, because you need to be on the top table to know what is going on so that you can be proactive and input positively into strategy, not just be an implementer of already decided strategy.
3. Your “office”
Will you have your own office? This depends on the culture of the organisation you are joining, of course. More businesses are moving to open plan lay outs as this breaks down barriers and increase collaboration. Be prepared to adjust to working in open plan if you haven’t done so before. Well organised open plan can be a pleasure to work in as you get a truer sense of being an integral part of the organisation when sitting next to others doing a different job to you and a greater team spirit can develop. But before accepting a job that is in open plan, ask to see where you will be sitting, enquire about quote space to do confidential work and store paperwork as an organisation that has not had an in-house lawyer before may not have thought of this. If not an open plan setting you should try to ensure, at that powerful point of job offer, that you get an office if others at your level in the hierarchy have one. It’s important for people that you’re working with in the business to see and recognise where you fit into the overall organisation and getting an office can send a strong message to the employees that you’re senior enough to be taken seriously.
4. Where to work
These days a very large number of organisations encourage agile working. Working from home is an obvious example. Working from home part of the working week is something that might appeal to you. Don’t assume, however, that your new employer is one of the majority of businesses who go down this route. A surprising number of business leaders remain wary of the agile way of working. Check out the organisation’s policy on this before you accept the job offer if it is important to you.
Business culture has a big impact on your wellbeing at work. If you work best in a corporate environment, then taking a role at a creative office with a flat hierarchy structure may not be the right environment for you. Yes, trying new challenges is important, but perhaps best for interim positions where you are challenged for a fixed term period
Next week, the second part of this blog will offer further tips on what to what do once you've chosen your first sole in-house counsel position.
Do you have any other crucial tips? Please do add them in the comments below.
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