What emerging lawyers need to know about getting started in-house

By Jerome Doraisamy|13 January 2020

There are numerous steps one needs to take to properly ingratiate themselves in the in-house workplace environment, says one legal counsel.

Speaking recently on The Corporate Counsel Show, The Learned Crew founder and in-house counsel Jessie Portus explained why and how in-house teams have to ensure that new lawyers in the team are effectively onboarded so that they can meaningfully contribute to the needs of a business.

Those incoming professionals need to meet their new teams halfway, she continued, by way of asking the right questions so they can properly appreciate the working environment in which they will hopefully thrive.

She said: “Such new team members must understand, ‘What are the expectations of me, what skills do I need to exhibit, what’s the risk profile of the company?’ [Then, when completing tasks, they should ask], ‘Can I run this by you? I’ve prepared the advice as much as I can, I prepared this email, reviewed this contract and marked it up, can I get a bit of peer review?’”

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“I know that that takes a bit of time, but honestly, that investment is well worth it. I remember working with a lot of red pen when I started, and I really appreciated looking at how my managers worked and being able to adopt their styles as well.”

Seeking out a mentor, or mentors, right off the bat is also crucial, Ms Porteus added.

I think mentors internally, but also mentors external to your organisation, are really important. I have countless mentors. I couldn’t even count them in front of you right now,” she reflected.

“Ive got so many and I think its fantastic because mentors can carry you in different areas of your life, whether its professional, whether its also career development, then personal and other goals, I think its so important. Mentoring, I cant say enough about it.”

Moreover, those getting immersed in in-house life need to go further than just being client-centric – they need to show “client obsession”, she posited.

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She said: “You’ve got to be obsessed with your client. I’m just jumping on the buzzword [first espoused by former Facebook CEO for Australia and New Zealand Stephen Scheeler], but I think its just a good thing to go, ‘You know what? We’re providing legal advice, we’re providing legal services, but are we actually hitting the mark there? What can we do better that has our customer in mind, not just the legal team in mind?’”

Right off the bat, however, the legal team needs to be able to complement whatever the new lawyer is asking by way of familiarising them with “the basics”, as Ms Porteus puts it.

“So, especially for those who are coming from private practice, [explaining] what is an in-house lawyer, particularly in this organisation, what does that mean? What are the expectations? What are the skills that we expect you as in-house lawyers here at company X to possess?” she advised.

“And, then, talk about client obsession. Who are your clients within the organisation? Is it procurement, sales, marketing, the CEO, the CFO, everybody? Then, actually setting up a schedule that allows you to either have coffee with those people or go in and sit in or visit a site or sit with the business so that you’re getting to know those people from the start and starting to have those really great meaningful conversations.”

Some emerging lawyers may be under the impression that life “in-house is going to be cruisy, and it’s definitely not”, Ms Porteus mused.

“You may not necessarily have to work until midnight every night, but it’s really intense during the hours that you are there. It’s an intense job, [meaning] the focus needs to be on how to prioritise your day and how to figure out what’s urgent versus what’s important,” she said.

On the same episode, Ms Porteus said working for a legal team imbibes a need to understand and appreciate not just how to operate as a lawyer within that team but also be cognisant of how the business works.

To listen to Jerome’s full conversation with Jessie Portus, click below:

Interested in the issues shaping the roles of in-house lawyers? Don’t miss your chance to hear from local and global in-house legal powerhouses at the Corporate Counsel Summit 2020!

What emerging lawyers need to know about getting started in-house
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