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Webinar report: Positioning you for success in your in-house career - The Fundamentals

‘You’re not the victim. You’re the solution.’

Donna McGrath

It’s not uncommon for in-house lawyers to feel overwhelmed in, frustrated with or stuck in their role and career.   

Or believe that their impact is not quite hitting the mark, lowering their chance of promotion or growth.

Which is why at CLL, we've  teamed up with Donna McGrath to present two webinars this year on positioning you and your legal team for success.

As the founder of The In-House Lawyers' Coach, Donna provides specialist leadership coaching and mentorship to in-house lawyers and legal teams.

After working as an engineering and construction solicitor with Eversheds LLP for five years, Donna made the switch to in-house in 2011. This saw her hold senior legal roles with Severn Trent Water, Rolls-Royce, BOUYGUES UK, National Grid and Holland and Barrett. 

Today, Donna draws on her experience, expertise and qualifications as a coach and mentor to help in-house lawyers lead with impact and influence.  By regaining control over their work and their careers through The In-House Lawyers’ Leadership Programme (ILLP).

From Donna’s experience she has identified three fundamental obstacles that frequently hold in-house lawyers back from thriving in their roles:

  1. Lack of control over a heavy workload;
  2. A feeling of powerlessness/self-sabotage; and  
  3. Poor relationships with internal stakeholders.

In this first webinar, Donna set out her strategies for helping in-house lawyers overcome these obstacles by way of sharing three of her clients' case studies.

Case study 1 

A senior in-house lawyer was looking to further his career. However, the sheer volume of his work left him too overwhelmed to see and think beyond the day-to-day ebb and flow of his role. He felt he had “no time” to take on more impactful strategic work due to a constant avalanche of work.  When he could raise his head above the parapet, he would raise his hand to take on strategic work.  However, as the avalanche of work came rolling down the hill, he had to hand back the much-desired strategy work - he simply had “no time”.  This left him feeling frustrated as he didn’t know how to change the situation.  He felt unsupported, he lacked direction and any sense of personal development. 

With “no time” to take on any strategic work, he was unable to position himself as a candidate for a more senior, strategic position. 

Through coaching and mentoring Donna uncovered some unhelpful ways that he was working.  For example, how he was planning and prioritising his current workload and resourcing future work.  The problem was he was planning his work through listing all his activities, and simply marking off the work as completed.  He had no other data.  He was planning his work out week-to-week and prioritising work on the basis of who shouted the loudest.  As for planning future work, he exclaimed, “Are you joking?”  

He could see how his work was on top of him, instead of him being on top of his work was causing him the distress.  

Donna introduced him to her Matter and Stakeholder Resource Management Tool, designed for In-House Lawyers. 

This tool helped him to plan his work over a period of 6-months, allowing him to find pockets of capacity.  He started gathering specific data points (supported by Donna) enabling him to have strategic conversations with his stakeholders leading to sustainable change and a clear sense of prioritisation.  Most importantly, it gave clear substantiation when he had to say no!  

As a result, he felt he was in control over his workload.  He was able to prioritise and take on more strategic work.  He feels he now has “time” and doesn’t feel overwhelmed as the work is planned and agreed with “sensible” deadlines.  He no longer feels it is only his problem if something isn’t getting done - it is a business and resourcing issue.  

The tool also took many unproductive tasks out of his workload. 
Consequently, he has been able to take on a business-wide strategic project, which he is in the middle of delivering.  Additionally, his boss has put him forward for promotion.

See what happens when you have a proper plan?  

Case study 2

Another senior in-house lawyer was plagued with long working hours. She too was overwhelmed by her work, a feeling compounded by the guilt she experienced from spending too little time with her young sons. She felt pulled from pillar to post and was in a lot of distress about her capability as an in-house lawyer.  She would have panic attacks over the number of tasks she had to get through and felt no one cared as they just kept throwing work her way without asking if she was ok.  She felt like a total failure - to the point where she was about to leave the profession.  

Firstly, Donna introduced her to Reframe, which Donna says is the most transformational tool in the ILLP.  

This tool helped Donna's client understand how her response patterns and internal belief systems influenced how she reacted to feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Everybody has a unique way of responding to stressful situation and how they perceive themselves, as a result - the Reframe tool identifies this for each individual.  

Reframe uncovered a significant insight for Donna’s client, she believed the volume of work was the primary problem. However, she realised through coaching, it was her response to handling the volume of work that was the problem.

By using the Reframe Tool, Donna helped her client separate herself from the problem, reframe it and think differently about how she approached her job. 

As a result, the client felt empowered, and she started to take control as she changed the voice in her head from “I am useless” to “I can do something about this”.  

Since then, the client has been able to take control over both her working and home life. She has been promoted twice in one year and now enjoys a great deal of quality time with her boys. Today, she is her organisation’s Chief Legal Officer.

Gaining insight into how she was contributing to her own emotions and situation, transformed her from a time-poor Senior Lawyer into a confident, powerful Chief Legal Officer.  With newfound time for her family and her outdoor pursuits of hiking.  

Case study 3

A senior in-house lawyer was moving to a new role. Having felt undervalued in her previous position, she was looking to make a fresh start, unencumbered by a negative experience.

Donna introduced her to the Value Proposition Tool which helped her client articulate her values, her skills and her purpose, both as a human and as a lawyer. Donna also helped her develop her exit plan from her new role into a Head of Legal “her ultimate desired role”.  Together they built a Personal Career Strategy enabling her client to reach that goal.  

The Value Proposition increased her confidence by knowing the value she brings to an organisation. 

In advance of starting her new position, she could use The Personal Career Strategy to agree some crucial steps. In doing so, she could hit the ground running with clarity and optimism.  As suggested in her plan, in week one she had key strategic meetings with her stakeholders highlighting key information, early.  This allowed her to build her strategy to deliver the best results for the business and also showcase her strengths.  

Having joined the organisation as a senior lawyer, 6-months later, she is now on strategic boards, leads business-critical projects and has a dotted line to the CEO. Even better, she feels confident, purposeful, and unaffected by what people say she should or shouldn't do as an in-house lawyer.

Instead of waiting to hear what the strategy is and what she must deliver against it, she is driving that strategy. And she couldn’t be happier.
Our second webinar with Donna, Masterclass: Positioning In-House Teams for Success - The Practical Steps is on 19 April 2023. Register here.

For more information about The In-House Lawyers’ Leadership Programme, book a call with Donna.

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