Progressing your career as an in-house lawyer
Leigh Kirkpatrick is Legal Counsel in the Services Legal team at RBS, which specialises in IP/IT Law. Leigh provides strategic and transactional support on a variety of technology and innovation projects, with an increasing focus on FinTech. She also supports transition and migration activities in relation to the bank's divestment and restructuring programme and works closely with the bank’s SME and start-up teams in the promotion of the bank’s entrepreneurial agenda.
'Land and expand'
In-house teams tend to be flatter in structure. That often means that they are (relatively) blind to post qualified experience and therefore the scope of your role (potentially) greater than in private practice. Make the most of that. Take advantage of opportunities within your department and across your organisation; get involved in strategy and thought leadership: land and expand.
Get used to being out of your comfort zone. Don’t set yourself boundaries that don’t exist. Volunteer for stretching assignments, ask to shadow more senior members of your team, ask them how they would have approached a particular problem or task. Leverage the expertise of those around you.
Make the most of time with stakeholders
In private practice you spend a lot of time developing business – finding new clients, building relationships with existing ones. In-house is the same. Except you have a captive audience. Take full advantage of that. Work out who your key stakeholders are; target them; buy them a coffee; get to know them. Do all you can to understand their priorities, goals, challenges and the direction of travel in their business area. Do all of this before they need legal advice.
Stakeholders are much more likely to pick up the phone when then have an issue if they know and trust you and it is much easier to escalate an issue to a senior stakeholder if you already have a relationship with them. You cannot give legal advice in a vacuum.
Learn from mentors
Make the most of mentors inside and outside your organisation - formal and informal. Learn from as many people as you can. Mentors offer a wealth of knowledge, experience, insight and a fresh perspective. Learn from their successes and failures. Allow them to challenge you and your way of thinking. And never underestimate the value of having people in your corner.
You don’t need to be a leader to lead
One of the best pieces of career advice that I have received is that you do not have to be a leader to lead.
If you capitalise on the freedom that you have in-house, take advantage of opportunities, volunteer for special assignments then you will (relatively quickly) rack up a covetable set of skills and experience. That can, and should, include leadership skills, regardless of whether or not you hold a leadership role in your organisation.
Provide input to the strategy and direction of your team or department; have a view; be supportive of colleagues; drive and develop initiatives; if you can’t build people leadership skills through matrix or line management then perhaps you could mentor others outside your team or organisation.
It is much easier for others to view you in a more senior role if you are already role modelling leadership behaviours.
Interested in career mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee? Find out more about the Society's career mentoring scheme.
And if you’d like contribute a guest post to our in-house blog, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Contact Beth Anderson, Head of Engagement for In-House Lawyers