“How can I make your work easier?”

To move in-house can be a daunting challenge for some, there are different expectations of legal counsel, and reporting structures vary not only from private practice, but also between companies.  It is easy to feel anxious about potential issues, or challenges that feel part and parcel with being the new guy. Remember though, it’s all in your perspective, will you look at the issues and see huge challenges, or translate them into big opportunities, to create change and add value.

We recently spoke with a friend who has moved between companies, and moved from a company with an existing legal department to building one from scratch as sole counsel. They discussed a lot of the potential challenges, one of the foremost being, getting internal departments to buy into your being an asset, not a barrier to their abilities to work, move forward with projects and achieve the business goals.  Her first strategy was to approach department leaders, making them feel part of the team, but also asking them right off the bat, “How can I make your work easier?”

In our friend’s case the company was very supportive and responsive to new challenges and client groups quickly got on board.  A big contributor to this early acceptance was the corporate culture, they happen to be a company that thrives on internal partnerships. Things were happening at such a fast pace that departments quickly saw the value of a boots on the ground, rapid response service, that in-house counsel made possible.

Another potential challenge that can arise is, grappling with outside counsel and managing firms and their expectations. The same counsel commented that the impracticality of advice that had been given by external counsel was shocking. From long memos and lead times, to pushing for zero risk, external counsel was making it that the business was incapable of acting quickly. This is by no means exclusive to just their company and is unfortunately, more common than many people think.

When entering into a company one needs to quickly prioritize and grasp an understanding of what the existing relationships with external counsel have been like in the past.  This will enable you to help both the company and the firms to feel more at ease, as you make it clear that you are to be seen as a partner not a replacement. Firms may feel threatened, thinking that you will affect their billable hours, or perhaps even eliminate them as a provider. By reaching out to the firms directly, you can put them at ease with a going forward game plan. It allows you to begin developing relationships and, will give you the insight and understanding for necessary changes, to help the company function and thrive.

Making a career move will always present unforeseen challenges, both good and bad but, like anything else we tackle in our career, it is all about how you choose to handle them. Going in with a plan and being on the same page as your superiors, is a good first step. Remain flexible, respect the level of autonomy you’ve been granted, and work within the company culture to achieve the company goals, as well as your own. No career shift will ever be completely seamless, but by setting goals and a game plan from the beginning, you stack the odds in your favour.

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