In the absence of a clean career structure like private practice lawyers, Daniel Stirling asks how in-house lawyers can progress their careers.
Many in-house lawyers work in small teams with flat structures where progression can involve an increase in complexity of work, business engagement and/or responsibility within their existing role. However, for those looking to progress into management or GC positions it is important to consider the requirements of organisations as early as possible in your career in order to best position yourself for future progression.
I spoke with the key decision makers from the legal teams of two ASX Top 10 companies. There was common ground between the two in respect to many of the key points they look to identify in lawyers when deciding on promotions. Many of these areas are personal skills or attributes such as communication skills, integrity, being pro-active and accountable. An optimistic, flexible and innovative approach was also stressed as crucial. There were also many actions or behaviours that should have been demonstrated throughout employment such as stepping up to show leadership without authority on projects or in mentoring junior staff or new team members. Strong business knowledge and relationships, a willingness to embrace and lead change as well as to make and stand by tough decisions are also very important. Strong technical skills are also always necessary.
Simon Brookes (Deputy Group GC at Telstra) advised that they generally look to appoint internally into leadership roles within the Telstra Legal Service Group as business knowledge is so critical and also to provide transparent career opportunities to their large, diverse team. Accordingly, he recommended that junior lawyers seek to broaden their skills (this can be done while maintaining a core specialism) rather than working in a silo as this will benefit their prospects and also provide a wider range of potential opportunities for progression. He also recommended that lawyers seek to gain a strong understanding of the business and become solutions focused as quickly as possible in their in-house career as this commerciality is key to any future advancement.
So it's clear that although many factors in these decisions are based on interpersonal and technical skills, the ability and confidence to go the extra mile, take the lead and make difficult decisions will stand you in good stead for your long-term in-house career.
Daniel Stirling is the director of the in-house division at Dolman