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What does it take to survive and thrive as an in house counsel just transitioning from law firms? Thanks!

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Listen more than you speak. Know when to fight your battles. Get comfortable with saying “I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.” Even when you think you know the legal answer don’t let the business push you into a response on the spot because there is likely context missing from whatever they just asked. Learn the business, people, and goals. Don’t provide a legal answer provide options in terms of risk. Work on fostering a partnership with the business so they bring you in early. Try not to say no unless absolutely necessary. Think outside the box if something doesn’t work legally be prepared to pitch an alternative that can get the business where they want to go in a legal way.

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Completely agree. We can’t know “everything” and being confident enough to say that you “know what you don’t know” and find the answer to the question will go a long way. Let your personality shine through when dealing with the business. It will make you more approachable and they will feel more comfortable coming to you. Good luck!

I’m not sure how large your company is, but get to know as many people in the company as possible. Walk different paths, change your routines to give you the ability to meet people, and put people’s faces with names. I’m talking from janitor to the top. Be kind, respectful and humble. I want to echo what others have said: don’t be the lawyer who always says no. Figure our what the goal is and work toward a solution. Obviously the end game is to protect your company over any individual. In-house is different from firm life from a client perspective. While you technically only have 1 true client, every employee, officer, board member (and shareholder of public) is your client. Be approachable. Be timely. Don’t be condescending to anyone. Be helpful. Unless it’s illegal, always make your boss look good, and never try to undermine your boss. Those are quick thoughts- I could go on and on after so many years in-house. Enjoy it! I would never go back to firm life!

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For me, I began with responsibilities for global litigation, but added different hats along the way. The real skill set to have in-house is transactional experience. As a former trial lawyer I am still convinced that such background positioned me for success, in what I am doing now, but a lot of hiring companies don’t wanna see litigation backgrounds. They want to see transactional experience. I ended up morphing along the way. Negotiating deals and high dollar contracts is much easier to me having litigated them in a past life.

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Get to know the legal department members and build a working relationship with them. Become familiar with the company’s departments and the people on those teams you will be interacting with. Learn the company structure quickly since all in-house places operate differently from firms. In house requires a business hat, so learning the ropes like this will make the transition a bit smoother.

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I agree, I’d also learn to check the ego at the door and get back in the mindset of learning new things. Depending on the role, you might be expected to be more of a generalist than an expert. I’d also be super friendly with your procurement and operations people (if applicable) they tend to be the people who know everything and can steer you in the right direction for specific things. I work in a manufacturing area, so the plant manager who’s been there for 30 years is my best friend.

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Focus on the goal they’re trying to achieve and tell them how they can achieve that legally (or with mitigated risk). They don’t want a memo on the range of options and pros/cons. They need explicit guidance on solutions that achieves their goal. Yes it’s ultimately their decision, but if they make the wrong one you’re stuck cleaning up the mess and are still liable to be blamed. Also, figure out which business partners are ego maniacs who won’t agree to a deal structure unless it was their idea. You need to get involved very early with them and inception them.

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Definitely learn the business, and take your time doing it. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions along the way. Like others have said, don’t be the office of “no.” It’s up to the business to take the risk - they ultimately own the risk - so it’s on you to help them make an informed, risk-based decision.

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