Webinar report: The in-house lawyer working effectively across the organisation
‘Get a mentor, be a mentor’
Whenever we explore topics of interest to lawyers new to the in-house world or those considering the switch, there’s always a big audience.
Our webinar, The in-house lawyer – working effectively across the organisation, was no exception. For our final event in the 2021 series with Thomson Reuters, some 200 of you registered to hear the advice of two experienced lawyers who have made the transition from private practice to in-house with distinction.
Nicolina Andall is Senior Corporate Counsel at Atlas Copco UK Holdings. With over 20 years of post-qualification experience, Nicolina has joint responsibility for the legal affairs of this global business’s £1 billion+ UK companies.
Before joining Atlas Copco, Nicolina, who has a keen interest in engineering, had spent several years in the sector with US giant, KBR and design engineers, Atkins.
Outside of her legal role, Nicolina is a NED Board Observer with Aldermere Bank plc and an independent panel member for both the Ministry of Justice and the Lord Chancellor’s department.
Fiona Fraser is a Deputy Director at Revenue Jersey. She leads the domestic tax policy team, overseeing the research, development and implementation of policy in business and personal taxation. Fiona works closely with legal advisers and legislative drafters.
Previously, she headed large legal teams at HMRC, litigating in the higher courts, advising senior stakeholders and drafting the law. Fiona was also a member of several formal case and issue governance boards at HMRC.
Fiona was a member of the Government Legal Profession from 2001 and has extensive experience of working in-house and across government.
Together with webinar chair, Anthony Inglese and questions moderator, Paul Bentall, Nicolina and Fiona tackled the challenges facing lawyers new to in-house roles.
Embed yourself in your new organisation
Rule number one when going in-house is to get to know the organisation, its purpose, its sector and, most importantly, its people as soon as possible. This will help you work out where you fit in and get a feel for the culture of your employer.
Be proactive and ask for informal chats with key stakeholders over a coffee – even if it’s just to introduce yourself. This will help to put you ‘on the map’ and get your rapport off to a good start for when you need to work with them on more substantive matters.
It’ll also help you speak the organisation’s language, which will go a long way to getting you accepted as a trusted adviser. In most cases, advice that’s short, sweet and delivered in plain English is far better received than elaborate missives peppered with legalese.
Be clear about what you’re there for
It may seem obvious but, unless you’re crystal clear about what your role is, you’re in danger of being pulled in multiple directions simultaneously. Your internal clients need to understand, for example, whether yours is a gatekeeper-type role for signing off on decisions – or if it’s more advisory.
Another potential pitfall is mission creep. Avoid this by drawing clear lines and setting out where your involvement in a matter starts and finishes. A great way to minimise mission creep and use your time effectively is to help your internal clients help themselves. Creating informative resources and/or offering training on the more common legal issues facing your organisation could save you many hours of repetitive tasks.
Manage your external counsel
If your role involves selecting and managing external lawyers, work closely with them. How they interact and work with your colleagues will reflect on you. Take time to brief external lawyers thoroughly – and not just on the legal matters in hand. The more they understand about your organisation and the people they’ll be working with, the more likely they’ll be to leave a great impression of the legal team on your stakeholders.
Always seek feedback
Constructive feedback, good or bad, is always a gift. As well as helping you continuously improve, simply asking others how you’re doing sends a message that you’re willing to adapt. Depending on the size and nature of your organisation, a simple ‘how did we do’ type conversation may be all that’s needed. Alternatively, you may wish to devise a more formal, structured mechanism for getting feedback. Either way, make it part of everything you do.
Finally, tap into your networks. The law is huge and none of us knows all of it. As your career develops, so too will your contacts and connections with other in-house lawyers. Never be afraid to ask these people for advice, insights or their experience. And, when the time comes, be equally generous when you’re able to help others. Because another great way to be effective across your organisation is to get a mentor – and be a mentor.