5 Skills to Develop Now to be Considered for GC in 5 Years

General counsel is a key role within any organization, and the skills required to be successful at it go way beyond legal knowledge. For a corporation to hand the reins of their entire legal department to one individual is a huge show of faith, and candidates looking to be seriously considered for a GC role must prove themselves worthy of the responsibility. A GC is highly skilled in a multitude of disciplines. They also must possess a deep knowledge of both legal and business matters, and be able to predict how they will intersect and affect one another.

The following are 5 key skills you’ll want to develop now to position yourself as a strong candidate for general counsel within 5 years.

Leadership Skills

They say great leaders are born, not made, but there are attributes possessed by natural leaders that can be practiced and learned. Start by consistently making opportunities happen. Become known by firm leadership as the in-house counsel who’s always taking on more than you’re asked to do. Take the helm on important projects and be sure your contributions have measurable impact on the firm’s bottom line. Great leaders have a tendency to make those around them great as well, so don’t miss out on opportunities to mentor and coach your peers and colleagues. Companies also want GCs who can effectively delegate responsibility.  By inspiring those around you, people will learn to follow your leadership, which builds your reputation and is a good way to get noticed as someone who can take charge.

Communication Skills

In a general counsel role, you’ll often act as an intermediary between a company’s legal- and non-legal departments. That means engaging with many different constituencies in the course of your day to day. Some of these groups will require using different terminology and vocabularies to be best understood, and having the ability to switch between those communication styles and lexicons depending who you’re speaking to is a must. For example, you’ll want to be able to effectively explain business language in interactions with other legal experts and be able to bring complicated legalese down to earth for non-lawyers like business or marketing folks. Being a savvy communicator can also open doors when it comes to governmental or regulatory bodies, which will inevitably end up on any GC’s speed dial.

Strategic Thinking

A good GC operates something like a skilled chess player. They closely examine the board, looking at every situation while considering every possible outcome. They then set in motion proactive strategies to better react to and weather those changes, or even create opportunities around them. That ability to look at something coming down the pike and anticipate how it might affect the business both legally and operationally is highly coveted in a GC. A strategic-thinking lawyer might, for example, see a newly announced industry regulation that could directly impact their business. In anticipation of those changes, they present possible outcomes to the executive team along with solutions they’ve devised to minimize its potential impact, or even creatively turn a potential negative into a way to boost revenue or generate new business.

Wide-Ranging Legal Knowledge

It may seem obvious, but to even be in the distant running for a GC role, you are expected to possess a deep knowledge of a broad range of legal topics. That means it’s best to gain experience throughout your career in some of the most sought-after legal areas like compliance, labor law, executive compensation and corporate governance, to name just a few. Spending some time in those and other key legal areas will sharpen your all-around legal expertise, making you more prepared for the inevitable curveballs thrown to you by executive management, whose requests and queries very often go beyond simple litigation matters.

Business Knowledge

General counsels should be constantly asking themselves how the issues before them will impact their company’s business goals. This often requires big-picture thinking. Are there any emerging marketplace trends that present a threat or opportunity? What are some ongoing or proposed compliance and regulatory issues that must be carefully considered and navigated? What potential impact might upcoming business transactions, contracts, joint ventures or merger activities have on the company’s future direction? All must be routinely considered by GCs in everything that they do. Getting out in front of problems before hitting an iceberg or identifying new revenue-generating opportunities are invaluable abilities for a GC to have, and it’s essential they maintain vigilant watch for anything that could spell trouble, or, conversely, present an opportunity.

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