Tips from Over 100 Years of In-House Experience

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By Team Priori
| In-House Voices

You spoke, we listened: some of our most popular posts feature in-house counsel discussing how they’ve built successful in-house careers and departments. In response to your feedback, our team interviewed leading in-house attorneys at a wide range of companies we work with, including SoFi, Betterment, Canary, Kars4Kids, ToughMudder, Amplify, Leverage Agency, Shireson Associates and Artsy.

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We’re excited to share more from these conversations in future blog posts. We wanted to kick off the series with a high-level overview of takeaways from our chats.   

  1. Business mindset. Rather than seeking to integrate business into the practice of law, think of yourself as a business person with a legal toolkit. Your unique skill is seeing business problems through a legal lens.

  1. Communicate just like everyone else (and no memos). Legal teams need to be seamlessly integrated into a business–not least so business teams perceive your department as aligned with the interests of the rest of the company rather than a stumbling block to business objectives. Communication should be in person where possible. Another effective way to accomplish this is to communicate using the tools the business people use. If others are using Slack, use it too, and join relevant channels. The closer you get to other departments, the greater the impact you can make in the company overall.

  1. Efficacy via empathy. Work hard to understand the business context beyond just a product or deal you’re directly handling. Use the product if you can. Conversations via long emails and memos can be alienating and often don’t provide important context and detail, so try to have as many face-to-face conversations with business people as you can. And in those conversations, do more listening than talking.

  1. Adapt to the pace. Business decisions sometimes need to happen very quickly, particularly at rapidly growing companies, so don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good with respect to everything that crosses your desk. Obviously assess and note risks within your applicable framework, but keep the ball rolling and make decisions. Similarly, always respond quickly to requests that come across your desk–even if only to communicate a timeline for an expected response, so departments know you’re on the same team.

  1. Develop a framework for communicating advice. Every in-house counsel pointed to the importance of clearly communicating advice, but we heard three different perspectives about how to most effectively communicate that advice: a) always take a business position, b) communicate risk only (including its likelihood and the cost of prevention) and not a business decision, or c) ask whether the person seeking advice  wants you to wear your lawyer hat (i.e. present risk) or your business hat (i.e. make a business decision).  

We will dive deeper into all of these topics in subsequent posts, but to us, the most compelling high-level takeaway from all our conversations was that each and every in-house attorney we spoke to pointed to “thinking business” and other business skills as the lynchpin of their success as opposed to subject matter expertise.

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