Pointers for the General Counsel Hired From Outside

Written by: Mike Evers for Corporate Counsel 

Congratulations! You have just been hired as the new general counsel of Awesome, Inc. You are new to the company, the CEO is excited to have you on her team, and so you are starting the job with a healthy amount of political capital. You are inheriting 20 attorneys, including four direct reports. Two of your direct reports were qualified for your job, but the CEO wanted to go outside for new leadership. Welcome to Day One. H10 tips for general counsels in this situation. These suggestions may feel intuitive to you already. But they really do seem to be best practices, so if you are in a new leadership role or anticipate such an opportunity, this may be helpful:

Spend time with your peers who also report directly to the CEO. If that is a large group and you can’t get to everyone right away, make sure you at least find a way to bond with the CFO. You want the CFO to have your back when you need resources, and she will also add valuable insight into how your CEO ticks.

Related to the first tip, don’t get siloed early (or ever) as “just” legal. Spend time with key managers and business generators to send the message that you are an asset to them.

Identify a star in your law department. Weeding out negativity or underperformers can wait. We will get to that. Who impresses you right away? Who appears to be a “can’t lose this person” member of your department? Build a relationship with that individual quickly, trust her with a confidence or two, and use some of your early political capital to bump this person up a bit in title and pay if possible. This sends a message to the entire team that you value existing talent, and it begins your department tenure with a positive action.

Introduce and discuss your style, objectives and agenda as soon as possible. If you have been brought to Awesome, Inc. in part to create culture change, talk about what that means to you early and often. You will scare the bleep out of some people (who I call the “eye rollers”), while others will feel energized.

Add before you subtract, if possible. After you assess your team, you may decide that you can benefit from bringing in a key new hire early, perhaps even someone with whom you have worked well before.

Assess every member of your department using Tip #2 as a guide. Who can handle more internal client contact? Would a business unit receive better and faster service if it had a “mini-GC” relationship with one of your lawyers? Consider organizational chart changes that prioritize responsiveness to the business over reporting structures and subject matter expertise.

new job 2

Shine at your first board meeting. How many times have you heard the term “boardroom presence” as a job requirement for becoming a general counsel? If you have a board meeting coming up, everything on this list can, and must, be put on hold for a few days leading up to that meeting. You must be fully prepared, focused, and on the top of your game … even if your role in that first meeting is minor and you are not presenting.

Get into the field. Mike knows you can only be one place at a time, but a day or two here and there simply soaking up the business at ground level will pay dividends. If you are in manufacturing, an afternoon walking a shop floor is a good idea. If you are in a service business, a morning with your marketing folks at a trade show could be eye opening in terms of how your law department can best support sales. Bonus: Couple this with Tip #3 and let the exercise double as a bonding opportunity with a key lieutenant.

Most new general counsel tell Evers they are “drinking from a fire hose.” If you are a hard-working professional, your instinct is to tackle everything. And lists like this one don’t help lower your cholesterol! There is a reason this list is numbered. Prioritization matters. Be a reassuring presence for your CEO and C-suite peers, and that will buy you all the time you need to get a handle on everything else and make change.  Unless you are taking a job with a company in absolute crisis, downgrade the fire hose to garden hose.

Found via: https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/03/05/10-tips-for-the-new-gc-hired-from-outside/?kw=10%20Tips%20for%20the%20New%20GC%20Hired%20From%20Outside&et=editorial&bu=Corporate%20Counsel&cn=20180306&src=EMC-Email&pt=Daily%20Alert


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