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Transitioning Into the In-House Domain – Behind the Scenes‎

Congratulations! You’ve been appointed general counsel of a leading company. You said your farewells to the firm where you previously worked, bought new suits, walked into your new office at the company and sat in general counsel’s chair. So now…what? here goes

For many, obtaining the long awaited position is just the beginning of the journey into a whole new world of unexpected challenges. In this article we will attempt to make sense of the situation and assist you in your transition from private practice to the corporate world

The immediate challenge you’ll need to face is a conceptual one. Whereas the practice of law in a firm is a business unto itself, each firm with its own business model, political structure and working environment, the in-house counsel wears a different hat as is required to fit into the business model and culture of a company where the legal department is just one of many departments

When a law firm attorney decides to go in-house, the transition is not always easy. Like every other human organizational endeavor, a company is a living, breathing organism that is comprised of multiple agendas which shape its goals and activities. It has its own unique set of complex organizational and political structures

The key factor is that instead of working with the client from an external platform with limited contact points, the lawyer now becomes an integral cog in one of the many wheels that turn at different speeds. Managing the legal affairs of a company has a much broader scope, and in many ways is a different job, than the traditional practice of law

To be successful, one must learn and understand almost every part of the company and the way it does business

To do this, you will need to polish your interpersonal skills and establish relationships with co-workers. You must work closely with finance, accounting, R&D, marketing, sales, service and other departments because they are all vital to managing the legal affairs of the company

general counsel shiftEach has its own position as to how things should be done, and consequently, internal negotiations regarding a transaction can often be more difficult than dealing with the other party to a deal

Establishing those internal relationships is not as easy as it sounds. People are often cautious when dealing with lawyers, even when you are an employee of the company

After all, now you are not only the lawyer, you are the policeman looking over their shoulders. Their goal is to give you as little rope as possible with which to tie their hands or hang them

But fear not! Once you establish positive relationships with your internal folks that are based on mutual trust and respect for their viewpoints you will be pleasantly surprised at what can be accomplished together

In conclusion, commencing one’s career as general counsel of a company is a unique opportunity. The learning curve comprises many levels and will take time. But the first step is to emerge from the law firm cocoon and embrace the business and operational culture of the company, and to establish trusting, working relationships with your colleagues and managers. Once that is achieved, you will be well on your way in your new position

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Bill Weisel* Adv. William Weisel heads the division of Strategy & Consulting for Legal Departments and Companies at Robus

* William served as GC and member of senior management of four publicly-traded, multinational, hi-tech companies over the past two decades, and he is a lecturer at the Haifa University Graduate School of Management and teaches a course entitled – Business and Law Convergence

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