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Questions to ask yourself before leaping to a new role

As legal professionals consider potential shifts in their legal careers, an award-winning general counsel emphasises the importance of asking one’s self pivotal questions before embarking on such a change.

user iconGrace Robbie 21 May 2024 Big Law
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Elisabeth Flett is the general counsel and company secretary for the not-for-profit organisation Cancer Council NSW. She was also the recipient of the Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel Awards for the Not-For-Profit Lawyer of the Year award and the Excellence Award in 2024.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, Elisabeth Flett shared valuable insights into the most crucial questions to ask yourself when considering a transition into a new role, drawing from her journey of refinement and discovery.

In the progression of her career, Flett underscored how she has “refined” the questions she poses to herself when considering a “career move” to ensure it reflects the stage of her career she wants to be in and the goals she seeks to accomplish in her next role.

 
 

During the formative years of one’s vocational journey, lawyers will often contemplate questions related to pursuing promotions and striving for salary increases, Flett mused.

“In the earlier stages of my career, it was always, is it a step up in seniority and a step up in pay? And that’s sort of the, the very sort of linear transition that we like to try and make early on in our career because we’re still kind of experiencing life in the law where we’re still learning.

“We’re on that sort of exploratory journey of what can our career look like. It’s great to move around and find opportunities to grow and learn, but often it’s about sort of refining what you already know and continuing on that same trajectory,” she said.

However, Flett added that as professionals gain further experience, the focus shifts towards skill development and diversification.

“The further on that you get in your career, and the more years you have under your belt, I think there are opportunities to focus on expanding your skill set and adding to that toolbox. And that really does serve you well when it comes to being able to make more varied moves and having opportunities in different industries,” she said.

Flett advises individuals to consider the unique learning opportunities presented by different roles, particularly when transitioning from private practice to in-house positions or exploring not-for-profit endeavours.

“If you were going, say, from private practice to an in-house role, you might want to be thinking about, well, what additional skills would I pick up in that role? I’m not just using the M&A experience I have from the firm or property or whatever it is, but what else will I pick up?

“In-house, you’re going to pick up a lot of different skills, but going from another in-house role to something else, I’d be focusing on the additional skills you’re picking up,” she said.

After working in the corporate world for several years, Flett reflected on her journey of transitioning to the non-profit sector.

“That was one of the things that really underpinned the decision for me in not-for-profit. Having worked in not-for-profit, I think I felt a sense that purpose in the work I would do would be a big factor, and it certainly has been. So, you know, I think it’s a real motivator that keeps me happy and engaged and productive in the work that I’m doing,” she said.

Reflecting on her journey, she demonstrates to other legal professionals the importance of asking yourself whether the new role aligns with the meaningful work you aim to achieve, should that be a key priority.

“I would question, you know, what weight do you put on purpose in the role that you do? Some people get far more than others. People do feel that that sort of heart alignment is more important to them.

“So, I think, you know, really learning about the organisation does and the impact that it has, who are its stakeholders, who’s receiving the benefit of the work they do is a great sort of place to start if you want to find that alignment,” she said.

In addition to aligning with the organisation’s purpose, Flett advocates for individuals to explore the nuances of the potential role by posing questions that provide insight into the firm’s mission, impact, and opportunities.

“Understanding how well you connect with the cause or the purpose of the organisation is a really interesting question to ask.

“What’s the size of the organisation? What structures do they have in place around management? What opportunities will you get in that role to influence the strategy or the decision making of the organisation? Can be some really great questions to be asking, particularly in a general counsel role or sole counsel role,” she said.

“Sometimes, you can fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll be in a leadership role, whereas, really, the organisation is looking for somebody to just be the in-house external resource, just to churn through documents. So, getting a real understanding of how. What role you’ll play as part of the management team is a great one to be asking.”

Flett’s insights provide legal professionals with a clear roadmap for navigating career transitions, ensuring clarity and purpose.