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Succeeding as a Great Lawyer, Savvy Businessperson, and Indispensable Teammate —The In-House Counsel Imperative

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Succeeding as a Great Lawyer, Savvy Businessperson, and Indispensable Teammate —The In-House Counsel ImperativeSenior Advisor A.B. Cruz, III is joined by Mary Talbott, CLO & Secretary, Gravity Diagnostics, and Shawnte Mitchell, EVP, GC & Corporate Secretary, Zogenix, Inc., to discuss their personal experience of striving to become true business- and industry-savvy lawyers and what it means - and doesn’t mean - to be an indispensable teammate. Whether you are currently a member of an in-house legal team or are aspiring to become one, you need to know more about how these essential attributes will boost your career and help you achieve your goals.

Below are highlights from the webinar. To learn more, the video recording and podcast are available on this page.

Today’s CEOs and board members have raised the bar for the General Counsel, the CLO, and the legal team. First you must be a great lawyer. Then, the expectation is that you will serve as an integral member of the C-Suite team, contribute to the success of the business as a strategic business partner, and be laser-focused on achieving corporate goals. Here are some insights and useful tips to make sure that you measure up.

No doubt about it: new research indicates that CEOs want their GCs to step up their game.

BarkerGilmore’s recent study, The Role and Value of Today's Modern GC: The CEO Perspective, reveals that 70% of CEOs described their ideal GC as one who acts as a strategic business partner and is a valued member of the leadership team. Although the GC role is viewed in most cases as an integral member of the executive leadership team, the majority of CEOs surveyed feel their GCs are falling short when it comes to actually being a contributing strategic business partner.

“The report’s findings indicate that CEOs want their GCs to step up, raise their game, and add greater value to the senior management team dynamic. So, as I see it, it's a call to action for not only sitting GCs, but also those who aspire to be GCs.”
— A.B. Cruz III

Gone are the days when GCs are seen simply as legal risk managers and providers of legal services. Today, CEOs expect their GCs to be providers of strategic advice, top-level decision-makers, allies in advancing the business, and standard bearers when it comes to enhancing the culture and reputation of the organization.

According to the BarkerGilmore research study, CEOs identify business strategy as the top area of improvement for GCs, followed by insight into new markets for potential expansion. They also expect GCs to have a timely and thorough understanding of their industry. The bottom line for today’s GC is that they need to truly be knowledgeable about the business, understand the underlying economics, and grasp the industry big picture. This optimizes your presence at the C-Suite table by positioning you to comfortably contribute as the strategic advisor, decision-maker, and business problem-solver that the CEO and other members of senior management are expecting you to be.

How to set yourself up for success if you are transitioning from a law firm to serving as member of an in-house legal team.

There are a number of key elements that are essential to help you prepare to be a successful member of the legal team as you transition from a law firm. To move forward in a corporate legal environment, make sure that you engage in the following activities to enhance your skills, increase your visibility, and provide value to the team and the corporation:

  • Formal and informal mentoring
  • Development plans
  • The performance review process
  • Succession planning career coaching
  • Exposure to the C-Suite and the board

In addition, high-level business skills and soft skills are equally necessary to move forward. Advocacy, sponsorship, and community involvement also factor into the equation. It’s important to be a player not only in your corporation, but also in the community.

“Having a champion who was looking out for me, showing me the ropes, and thinking of the best next steps for me definitely put me on the path to success. I don’t think that I would have been able to navigate that path on my own. It made a huge difference in what I was able to accomplish with assistance from him and others who helped me along the way.”
— Mary Talbott

There is more to consider: performance, image, and exposure are critical to your success as you climb the legal ladder.

Talent, potential, and passion are necessary to achieve your goals, but be sure to take a broader approach to showcase your performance and build your image. Here are some tips:

  1. Be intentional about taking on projects that will get you in front of the executive team
  2. Stay visible so the team can get to know you and see you in action
  3. Develop relationships with team members as those relationships are critical to your advancement
  4. Build relationships across the organization
  5. Develop relationships with the board
  6. Affirmatively ask others to serve as a mentor to you
  7. Enhance your image

“Let others see you as a leader within the organization. It’s not just about doing the work and managing, but about developing a real leadership style and a real leadership brand. People need to see you as more than just a subject matter expert – they need to perceive you as a leader.”
— Shawnte Mitchell


A.B. Cruz lll, and our team of consultants are happy to help accelerate the initiatives that you're already pursuing or to supplement your current strategic thinking to help you realize your vision. Please reach out if you or your organization may benefit from our recruiting, leadership development and coaching, or legal and compliance department consulting.

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