You’re moving from your firm to in-house counsel. You’ve got the legal knowledge and experience down, but it may still take some adjustment to figure out the ins and outs of providing advice as a GC when it comes to your contracts.
When you’re adjusting, there are a few things you need to take care of right away to help the transition go more smoothly. You can wing it completely, or you can follow our steps to make your contract management easier when you’ve transitioned from a firm to in-house counsel. Let’s take a look.
Get the Lay of the Land
Ask questions. Figure out processes. Work out the hierarchy and relationships. You have tons of legal expertise and know-how, but operating within a firm for lots of clients isn’t the same as belonging to the business. You don’t know everything about the company, and it’s essential to get acquainted quickly.
Your business counterparts have a lot of their own experience, and it’s no shame not to know some things. You can’t provide advice without understanding the context of the business where you are, and you’ll need your business department’s input just as much as they need yours. Build those relationships early by figuring out what’s going on.
Consider these things:
- size and type of operations
- the approach to risk-taking
- governance and decision-making processes
- legal department’s role in decision making
Begin Building Trust
Speaking of relationships, it’s now a vital part of your job description. You may not need to bring in new business like you did with the firm, but you do need to begin winning the confidence of each department in your organization. The importance of trust in the workplace cannot be overstated.
Your circle of influence helps your job security, yes, but it also helps smooth processes that may not be so exciting to do. If you’ve got the support of not only the rest of your C-suite but the shareholders, sales, engineering, support staff, supply chain and everyone else, you may find fewer silos are keeping you from offering your best work.
Keep in mind that many of your internal clients may not have much experience with in-house counsel. Make sure you establish a few concepts early on:
- In-house counsel represents the business interest rather than individual ones. Although you’re available for departmental advice and must build that trust, it’s important not to misrepresent your purpose.
- Your relationships with in-house clients will be a little different than your clients at the firm. They understood your work and knew the boundaries.
- It’s crucial to schedule follow-ups with internal clients because departments may not seek out advice until there’s an issue. Build a system so you can check in at appropriate times.
Avoid Taking on Too Much
When you’re a revenue generator at a firm, you take on any billable hours a client will give you. With in-house counsel, there’s a different approach. Avoid taking on all the responsibility, or your real responsibilities could quickly become overshadowed.
Instead, focus on collaboration and mitigating risk. You can’t eliminate risk by taking over everything the business side should be doing, but you can learn to problem solve and help direct projects for the good of the business. This is also the time to adopt an efficient approach instead of relying solely on legal theory.
Keep this in mind for collaboration:
- Once you understand your business’s risk profile, you need to simply advise on that risk, not take on responsibilities to eliminate it.
- Establish boundaries for what your legal department is responsible for so that your best time is spent providing real value for the company and not putting out everyone’s fires.
- Keep in mind that your advice can’t be made in a vacuum.
Shape Up Your Work Method
You won’t have nearly as many resources with in-house counsel as you did at your firm. You may not have access to the support staff or even the physical resources. You’ll need to make your process more efficient in response.
Your business department doesn’t want the ins and outs of your decision in theoretical terms. They’re looking for the answer or advice in terms that relate to the business itself. Streamline your process so that you can provide practical value and not drain resources.
- Consider that your in-house team is more than happy to have meetings to handle certain aspects that you might have handed off to support staff in your firm years.
- Great can’t take the place of good enough if it’s a drain on resources.
- Maintain your integrity but keep in mind that your day to day work should be highly practical.
- Software that brings in all appropriate departments, such as contract management software, could help make the lack of support staff a moot point.
Take Your Transition To In-house Counsel Seriously
Keep these first few steps in mind as you make the change to in-house counsel. You have so much valuable expertise in the legal field, but it’s important to understand how vital your business counterparts are in this transition. Their business experience is a critical part of your process.
Once you can fully articulate your client’s needs and goals, the advice and direction you provide for contracts is a valuable tool for a growing business. Your organization needs your help, and your transition to the business world can happen with grace and understanding.
If you’d like to explore how contract lifecycle management software like IntelAgree can help ease the pressure for a tedious portion of your GC duties – contract management – get in touch.