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The LexisPSL guide to making the most of your first 100 days as an in-house lawyer
Congratulations on securing your first in-house role! You’ve done the hard work of deciding to build your career in-house and you’ve found a company you respect and a role that suits you, so now you need to start planning how you’re going to make an impact and do well.
Having interviewed hundreds of in-house lawyers in order to develop our legal information service, LexisPSL, we’ve learnt a thing or two about how to make the transition from law firm to in-house team, so we’ve prepared this short guide to help you avoid some of the pitfalls and hit the ground running.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
The first few weeks are likely to be largely taken up by meeting new colleagues and getting to know your new boss. If you’re lucky, some of these meetings will be arranged for you in advance, but don’t feel confined by the list of meetings set up when you arrive. Use this time to get a feel for the politics and culture of the business by inviting yourself into as many things as possible. Particularly look out for:
Ask as many questions as you can, particularly in respect of the product lines, where profits in the business come from, about the major costs and the objectives and priorities for the year for the people you meet. Find out what law firms are being used and who is appointing them—it might not always be the legal department Also ask for copies of key contracts, so you can read and familiarise yourself with key dates and the terms and conditions.
At the end of the third week, make a quick list of all the people you’ve met who will be key to getting your job done: your boss, team (if you have one), colleagues in Legal, administrative support, key contacts in other functions. Then ask yourself the following questions:
Make sure you have been properly “announced” to the business, especially if yours is a new role. A group-wide email or Yammer message with a bit of background information and a photo will make it easier to introduce yourself to people in person.
Fail to plan, plan to fail
"I feel like I am standing on a motorway bridge watching cars whizz past having no idea who is driving them or where they are going. I don’t even know what make of car they are."
The words of one new in-house counsel, describing their first weeks in the job. The variety and buzz of being in-house is one of the main attractions but they can make it hard to plan and execute effectively.
To help you succeed, ensure you set some robust objectives with your boss after your first month in post. When agreeing these, think about:
Review the objectives you come up with at the end of your first three months and then every six months thereafter, either with your boss or on your own. Are they still fit for purpose? Have priorities shifted? Can you articulate progress and illustrate with figures or feedback?
Doubtless one of the things you’re most looking forward to is the end of time recording but make sure you don’t lose track of where your time is going. Are you spending too much time on transactional reviews or advice that could be better served by standardising documents or processes? Are there projects that you should be involved in earlier?
Lawyers work in words, not numbers
That may well be so but if you want credibility in your business, you need to “fake it ‘til you make it” with the numbers. Depending on how many gaps you feel you have to fill in this area, you might want to get some Finance training or do some further reading around the subject. As a minimum, ask questions during your first few weeks to make sure you can:
It’s also worth familiarising yourself with the way business cases are presented in your new company, what the sign-off procedures and limits of authority are and what methods of investment appraisal are preferred by your Finance team.
Where are the quick wins?
Through your first few weeks, make sure you keep a look out for potential future “quick wins”—projects that are simple and quick to execute but have a disproportionately large impact, either because they are important to a significant project, customer or leader in the business or because they are causing a significant volume of complaints or delays. You might not tackle these initiatives straight-away but your first 90 days is a great time to take note of potential areas to work on. Examples could include:
As well as watching out for these in your first few months, you can also identify these projects by asking for feedback from across the business. Consider putting together a questionnaire or customer satisfaction survey that you can email to your internal customers, asking for feedback and ideas for improvements.
Once you’ve identified good activities to focus on and made improvements, don’t forget to celebrate your success. Find ways of demonstrating the improvements, either in numbers (“We’ve reduced the number of contracts needing legal review from 120 a month to 40”) or by quoting feedback from happier customers. Look out for tools to help you communicate the results, like internal newsletters or your intranet.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s tempting to think that as a subject matter expert, you have to have the answers for everything – especially if you’re going into a role as sole in-house counsel. This inevitably increases the pressure you feel in your job and, long-term, can lead to burn out and additional stress. So as part of your first few months in post, start building your support team and work out who is going to help you succeed:
Use this opportunity to think about your mentors. People who have mentored you previously are likely to still be able to give you useful feedback and advice but consider adding someone from your new business.
Read this note in LexisPSL In-house Advisor
Related content in LexisPSL In-house Advisor:
To find out more about what LexisNexis does for in-house lawyers, click here.
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