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6 key traits you'll need on the road to a GC role

29 / 09 / 2018
The career path to becoming General Counsel (GC) is often less linear and more nuanced than securing a partner position at a private practice firm. Reaching the top of the in-house leadership pyramid typically requires a different set of skills than if you are following the established partnership route.

Our research shows the average time before becoming a GC is 13.5 years' PQE. But what are the key skills and characteristics that will help you get there?

1. A broad base of technical skills

Our 2018 Market Report revealed that finding candidates with the right technical knowledge was the biggest recruitment hurdle for in-house legal hiring mangers last year. Forty-four per cent of respondents cited this as their main problem.

Subject matter expertise is crucial to climbing the private practice career ladder, but in-house lawyers must often look to broaden their experience across as many areas as possible to clinch a GC role. Nevertheless, experience of financial services regulations, litigation and corporate law are generally transferable across various in-house positions, providing a strong base.

2. Diverse communication skills

Good communication is a common requirement for most professional roles, but you must be specifically prepared for the cultural shift you will experience when moving in-house. Within private practice, you are surrounded by legal peers, many of whom are likely to have a similar mindset to your own.

However, corporate environments have a wider variety of personality types, requiring you to evolve your interpersonal skills. Executive coaches or mentors can help you overcome any communication weaknesses if you are struggling to make the transition.

3. Effective leadership and management

It's no surprise that first-rate leadership and management skills are sought-after qualities in a GC, given the responsibilities of the role. In our conversations with senior in-house lawyers, they considered great leadership to involve the more visionary and strategic aspects of moving the legal function forward.

Meanwhile, effective managers are adept at the day-to-day aspects of the GC role, such as co-ordinating teams, organising schedules, performing appraisals and general supervision. Lawyers are more likely to have opportunities to develop management than leadership skills in the early stages of their career, so always grasp opportunities to take the lead on key projects with both hands.


4. Sophisticated commercial awareness

Adapting to a commercial environment can be challenging for lawyers. Businesses must often take risks to succeed and some in-house professionals may have to curb their natural inclination to act as a legal roadblock to growth strategies. Instead, GCs have the difficult task of erring on the right side of the law, while still giving companies the green light to take calculated risks.

A thorough understanding of the organisation and its processes, controls, structures and people is therefore a must. This will enable you to not only advise on the rule of law but also identify legal risks and opportunities that impact your particular business.

5. Proactive internal and external networking

Developing a strong internal network goes hand-in-hand with building up a comprehensive understanding of your company. You should reach out to all departments within the organisation to learn how they operate and add value.

However, external networking shouldn't be neglected. Most in-house lawyers have a small network of peers from when they studied or trained, so maintain these relationships where possible. You should also consider attending conferences and events organised by law firms and recruiters, as well as regularly updating your social media profiles.

6. Knowing when to move on

More than a quarter (26%) of in-house lawyers chose career development as the aspect they would most like to change about their jobs, according to our research. This was second only to salary (30%).

You may need to consider moving to a different employer if you have exhausted all the promotion opportunities in your business. However, there may still be options available in your current position, so make sure to clearly outline your ambitions and see if there are avenues for growth, such as secondments or a broadening of responsibilities.

Are you ready for the next step in your career?

We've spoken to many GCs here at Barclay Simpson, and they all took different routes to the top. However, what shines through in all their stories was their determination, clear vision for the future and willingness to remain open to opportunities.

Is now the time for you to consider your next in-house legal role? Whether you're actively looking for a new position, or simply want to discuss your options, please call 020 7936 2601 today or email me directly at rg@barclaysimpson.com.

Our 2018 Market Report combines our review of the prevailing conditions in the in-house legal recruitment market with the results of our latest employer survey.

Image credit: Rawpixel via Unsplash

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