An understanding of the commercial drivers of the business is critical to the success of in-house lawyers and their climb up the corporate counsel career ladder.
Commerciality and developing an understanding of the business's strategy was the recurring advice that came from a panel of general counsels at the career progression segment of yesterday's LexisNexis National In-house Counsel 2011 Conference.
During the discussion panel, five industry leaders, including Citigroup general counsel Philip Holt and eBay's director of legal affairs Katrina Johnson, discussed the key steps required to progress through the ranks of an organisation.
Panel member Michael Vardanega, a former Blake Dawson lawyer and recently appointed as general counsel at Challenger Ltd, said the role of general counsel requires the development of technical skills that are relevant to the business's strategy. In addition, a cool head, good communication skills - providing information and advice succinctly that's relevant to the audience - as well as good connections and relationships with those in private practice are all skills that in-house counsel need to be successful.
Formerly a litigation lawyer with aspirations to go to the Bar, Citigroup's Holt said his career progression to general counsel was not a result of any plan or strategy but simply by taking the opportunities that came his way, which included stints overseas in London and New York. He said learning to manage legal risk rather than legal issues - and turning legal issues into commercially relevant matters - has been pivotal to his success.
Brigid Keary, director of risk and quality - marketing, communications and business development at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, advised in-house lawyers to not be afraid of shedding the 'lawyer' label, while continuing to apply a critical mind to issues of the business.
(LexisNexis is the publisher of Lawyers Weekly)