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Managing your Career to General Counsel

Taylor Root Market Insight, Corporate & Commercial

The role of an in-house lawyer has changed considerably over the last decade. In-house lawyers are expected to offer much more than just straightforward legal advice. They must be able to think strategically and advise commercially, often on non-legal matters.

As chief counsel, you’re expected to serve as a trusted business partner and advisor to the C-suite, influencing, and executing the company’s long-term growth plans.

For an ambitious lawyer looking to progress towards a General Counsel position, the route is not as clear as the path to partnership in private practice.

However, lawyers who successfully navigate in-house moves, internally and externally, will experience great diversity in their careers and have fantastic opportunities both as lawyers and as business advisers.

There are several considerations to be mindful of when discussing and planning for career progression to General Counsel.

These include how long to stay in a role, how to avoid becoming stagnant in your current role, and the implications of moving too often.

One of the challenges of moving roles when you already have an established career is to identify what genuine progression actually looks like. Equally, it is important to understand the parameters of the legal market - clearly not everyone is destined to become group general counsel of a FTSE100. However, there are still plenty of avenues that will allow ambitious lawyers to continue developing and progressing.

Broadening your skills portfolio, dealing with the nuances of a different sector and stepping into a position, that increases your exposure to new challenges, are all valid reasons to move jobs.

Undertake proper due diligence, discuss potential moves with peers, and partner with a reputable legal head-hunter, like Taylor Root, who can properly assess your options and advise accordingly. A considerable selection of high-profile moves arise through personal connections and word of mouth.

However how long is too long or too short for you to stay in a role. Clearly this is an inexact science. With the rise of the gig economy and the millennial workforce redefining our perception of longevity, it is very hard to identify how long an individual should stay in a role, and conversely when might be considered “too soon” to move.

Often too soon is a matter of individual opinion, and in reality, your reasons for moving role and your explanation of those reasons will help to shape others’ opinions. It is important to be in tune with your organisational landscape, so as to really understand where genuine career advancement ends, and when the learning opportunities have expired. It is also important to recognise unrealistic goals around career enhancement and to act accordingly.

Fundamentally whilst loyalty is valued, it is always useful to be aware of external opportunities, if only to benchmark your own position against these.

Within the current working environment, length of tenure is no longer automatically perceived in the same positive light it was viewed 10+ years ago. Arguably, it has never been more important to proactively manage your career.

As with the question of when is the right time to move, there are no hard and fast rules re how often is too often when moving roles. However well-researched you are, you will only really know whether a role is right for you once you’ve started. Most hiring managers understand that mistakes can be made and acknowledge that there might be legitimate reasons for leaving.

However, if a pattern of sort tenure starts to develop, this can be harder to explain.

Progression is important to everyone when it comes to getting a new job. Hiring managers want to be able to see from your CV that you have managed your career and made smart choices.

There are many different elements to consider when thinking about your career. Its important to ensure that you take the time to identify what counts in your particular market and how you can differentiate yourself within that space. You should endeavour to be at the forefront of market challenges (such as regulatory changes in the financial services profession for example) whilst ensuring breadth in your skillset. Always keep an eye out for any opportunities both internally and externally, as well as the opportunity to gain new experiences within the business.

Ultimately, career progression is about proactively managing your career, being in tune with the market and the skills that are in high demand and ensuring a breadth of qualities and experience that will maximise your external marketability.

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