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NextGen Network Roundtable: Planning your progression to General Counsel

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Taylor Root

When advising in-house lawyers in relation to new job opportunities, we are frequently asked about the prospects for progression. This is rarely an easy question to answer, and this highlights the importance of in-house lawyers proactively managing this aspect of their career. There are several considerations to be mindful of.

Taylor Root recently hosted a roundtable discussion with a selection of senior in-house counsel from investment houses, start-ups and technology businesses. The focus of the roundtable was to discuss the current state of the in-house legal market, and how lawyers can successfully plan and progress their career. Some of the points we covered included: how long to stay in a role; how to avoid becoming stagnant in your current role; and thoughts around the implications of moving too often.

What should you consider or be aware of when thinking of making your next move?

One of the challenges of moving roles when you already have an established career, is to identify what genuine progression actually looks like. Equally, it is important to understand the parameters of the legal market - clearly not everyone is destined to become group general counsel of a FTSE100. However, there are still plenty of avenues that will allow ambitious lawyers to continue developing and progressing.  Broadening your skills portfolio, dealing with the nuances of a different sector and stepping into a similar position, but one that increases your exposure to new challenges, are all valid reasons to move jobs. Undertake proper due diligence, discuss potential moves with peers (where you can), and partner with a reputable legal headhunter who can properly assess your options and advise accordingly. A considerable selection of high profile moves arise through personal connections and word of mouth,  so this is a key point.  Ensure your LinkedIn profile and CV are well written, up-to-date and concise.  Again, an experienced headhunter can assist with this.

How long should you stay in each role?  

Clearly this is an inexact science. With the rise of the gig economy and the millennial workforce redefining our perception of longevity, it is very hard to identify how long an individual should stay in a role, and conversely when might be considered “too soon” to move.  Often “too soon” is a matter of individual opinion, and in reality, your reasons for moving role and your explanation of those reasons will help to shape others’ opinions. It is important to be in tune with your organisational landscape, so as to really understand where genuine career advancement ends, and when the learning opportunities have expired. It is also important to recognise unrealistic goals around career enhancement and to act accordingly. Fundamentally whilst loyalty is valued, it is always useful to be aware of external opportunities, if only to benchmark your own position against these.

Within the current working environment, length of tenure is no longer automatically perceived in the same positive light it was viewed 10+ years ago. Arguably, it has never been more important to proactively manage your career. Whilst there is no hard rule for length of time, it’s advisable to start looking at you career development 3-4 years into a role. Clearly, you may consider doing so sooner if you feel that your current role and / or organisation lack(s) the necessary ingredients to keep you happy, motivated and stretched / challenged.

Developing your career if you stay in your current role

Depending on your business growth strategy and objectives, there obviously may be a possibility of progressing your career by remaining in your current role. If your business grows (be it organically or via a merger/acquisition), there may be a chance to progress your career and broaden out your skill set.

It is advisable to be aware of what is happening internally. We often get candidates saying to us that their General Counsel is not going anywhere. Where Possible, it is important to understand what the next potential move (if any) is of the person in the role above you, and whether there is a genuine opportunity to be promoted internally (and roughly when).  It is also worth considering whether there is scope to expand your responsibilities to encompass areas such as compliance, company secretarial and/or internal audit.

Moving too often

As with the question of when the right time is to move, there are no hard and fast rules here. From time to time, however well researched you are, you only really know whether it’s the right position for you once you’ve started. Most hiring managers understand that mistakes can be made and if there is a legitimate reason for leaving, they are likely to be understanding of that when considering your CV. However, if a pattern starts to develop of several positions that you have only stayed in for a relatively short period of time, this can be harder to explain. Progression is something that is important to everyone when it comes to getting a new job. Hiring managers want to be able to see from your CV that you have managed your career and made smart choices.

In summary, there are several elements that you need to consider around career progression. Identifying what counts in your particular market space and differentiating yourself are often key factors. You should endeavour to be at the forefront of market challenges (such as regulatory changes in the financial services profession for example) whilst ensuring breadth in your skillset. Management experience, either through obtaining direct reports or more responsibility for different business areas such as company secretarial or compliance, is also key. Always look out for opportunities internally within the wider business. Progression is ultimately about proactively managing your career, being in tune with the market and what skills are in high demand, and ensuring a breadth of qualities and experience that will maximise your external marketability.

If you would like any assistance or advice, please do not hesitate to contact me.

“The NextGen Counsel are extremely grateful to Taylor Root for hosting our event last week. It was great to get their expert insight into the current state of the in-house recruitment market, career development and how we should all be thinking about how we manage our own careers.”

Adam Hirschovits - General Counsel – Hambro Perks