In my third law student mentoring session, I spoke to A, a final year student of a non-NLU with a very impressive CV.
In this session, we spoke a lot about being an in-house counsel. A is interning at a company and wants to be an in-house counsel. From skills required to an ideal career path, we covered a broad range of topics. She asked me only three questions, so to remain true to my article heading, I have added two more tips just for my readers.
So let’s get started.
1. On soft skills and business knowledge to acquire to perform well in an in-house role
An in-house counsel is expected to be an all-rounder.
You are supposed to solve problems quickly, give legal opinion on day-today operational issues, draft and negotiate contracts, formulate strategy for litigation, while keeping costs low. So, let’s bust one big myth right away: In-house counsel is not a middleman between Business and a law firm. Gone are the days when an in-house would collect papers from the Business and hand them over to an external lawyer. You are the conscience-keeper of the company. A stellar in-house counsel makes sure that the company is in compliance of all regulatory aspects,and avoid unnecessary litigation.
Therefore, it is important that you are more than a lawyer for your company.
You should be knowledgeable about the company’s business, understand the various issues it usually faces, know the processes and business systems that are in place and be able to read and at the very least, make sense of the financial statement from the Annual Report.
The other skill I lay a great emphasis on is the art of asking questions.
If you read my previous article on 5 questions a lawyer should ask a client before taking on a new litigation, you would have seen how asking the right questions brings out the crux of the issue. So, be fearless and ask as many questions as you need to go deep into a problem.
A very important task of an in-house counsel is crisis management. During such times, try to assess the situation not from a lawyer’s lens. Imagine it is your own company and this crisis has happened to you. What would you do? It’s very easy to assess a crisis from a legal viewpoint and advise the Business to go ahead and file a case. But it’s more difficult to look at the bigger picture and find a less expensive solution.
2. On having work experience from a law firm before going for an In-House Role
A noticed that most in-house counsel, especially most of the General Counsel had work experience from law firms prior to joining in-house teams and wondered whether that is a preferred path and there is an advantage to such a progression.
Personally, I too, had worked in Khaitan & Co before joining ITC Limited. My law firm experience, especially my knowledge of court procedure, came very handy in my in-house role later. However, I had not planned for my career to take shape in any particular way.
I doubt many people are able to design their desirable career by choice. Some time, one doesn’t have a choice but to go down along a certain path.
There are law firm partners who have left their jobs to be in private practice, or have come from an in-house department. There are many in-house counsel who have started their career in a company and have no plans to be elsewhere. All I can say that one can join the dots only in hindsight and one should certainly go with the flow of life.
3. On cracking a PPO with an Inhouse team being a non-NLU student
From my personal experience, very few companies hire freshers and even fewer companies offer PPO.
Since A is already interning at a company, I advised her to maintain good relationships with her colleagues and have a discussion with them at the end of her internship with regards to a chance to interview. People are more likely to accommodate if someone asks for a chance for an interview as opposed to a job offer.
I also advised her to not be afraid to take up an opportunity even if it does not align with her ultimate ambition. All jobs have valuable experience to offer and will aid in taking her to her ultimate goal.
4. Additional Tip #1
The first and foremost skill required for a successful in-house counsel is people management.
Starting from your Business team, senior management, your boss, colleagues, external counsel, senior advocates, their office, junior counse,– the list of people one has to deal with,is endless. Managing conflict, addressing ego, resolving difference of opinion, articulating your viewpoint without being standoffish – should all be arrows stored in your ‘quiver of skills’.
The question is, how to inculcate and hone this important skill?
I received this advice years ago and it has stuck with me.
Most work related conflicts because we react to a given situation, instead of responding. We first think with our heart rather than a cool head. So next time, whenever an undesirable situation arises in relation to a person infront of you, count 10 in your head. While you are counting, you direct your thinking to be logical and analytical. Once the moment to react has passed, you will find it easier to respond to the given situation and diffuse any unpleasant encounter.
Point to note – It is extremely difficult to accomplish and comes with constant practice.
5. Additional Tip#2
The second skill necessary to succeed as an in-house counsel is time management.
This job may not be as demanding a law firm one, but comes with its own challenges. Astute time management, prioritising of tasks and figuring out how to be productive are some important skills any lawyer must have.
Now the question is, how to achieve optimum time management in respect to your professional life and balance it well with your personal life?
You must have done a lot of To-Do lists every morning and used techniques like Pomodoro to achieve productivity. Give my way a try.
Schedule your entire day in Google Calendar. Right from when to wake up, eat breakfast, get ready, commute to handling emails, meetings, court visits, calls, watching Netflix and surfing internet till you go to bed – schedule them all in Google Calendar.
There are some days I am not able to stick to the Calendar, but having it all written down in one place and receiving notifications 10 mins before every event, helps me in keeping the bigger picture in mind even as I deviate.
There are days when I switch off notification and tackle a day as I please. It gives me a sense of freedom and break. But come next workday, Google Calendar dutifully reminds me to sit down to work at 9.30 AM and I am happy to oblige. This has helped me in remaining productive during this lockdown while I worked from home and also handled a toddler and wrote this Blog.
So, this is all about my law student mentoring session no 3.
Hope you find this article helpful.
All the best!
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