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Starting a New In-house Counsel Role: A Step-by-step Guide

    
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Starting a new in-house counsel role typically involves months of learning and working through speed bumps as you adjust to your new organization, teammates, and routines. Even the most experienced professionals need time to settle in and learn company policies and procedures and what is expected of the legal team.

Luckily, there are some steps you can take early in the process that will help you get up to speed as quickly as possible so you can start planning for long term success.

Below is a step-by-step guide to help you get acclimated in a new in-house counsel role.

1. Get Familiar with Your New Company

One of the first steps to settling in to any in-house counsel role is to fully understand your new company inside and out. You likely conducted some of this research during the hiring process, but now is the time to fill in the gaps and become an expert in how the business operates. Here are some tasks to consider and questions to answer.

Business Basics
  • Locate and review press releases, product updates, transaction information, etc.

  • Access company goals and strategy documents.

  • Understand the company landscape: team, location(s), culture, language, etc.

Product/Industry Information
  • How are your products created and delivered?

  • How is your company viewed by competitors? Customers? Industry experts?

  • How is Intellectual Property currently managed/protected?

2. Get Familiar with Your New Colleagues

The next step is to get a complete picture of how your legal team works with the rest of the organization, who your stakeholders are, and what is expected of you from various departments and colleagues. Here are some of the key groups that you should get to know early in your new role.

Department Heads
  • What support do they need from legal?

  • Are there any existing or past issues that need to be addressed? Or in progress?

  • Are there any potential issues arising?

Existing Legal Staff
  • What are the current policies and procedures?

  • Are there any known issues with current departmental operations?

  • Who are the outside partners currently assisting with legal activities? (Outside counsel, contractors, etc.)

Finance Department
  • Are there any existing accounting or tax issues?

  • Are there opportunities to improve revenue-recognition?

  • Are there outside agencies that you need to be introduced to?

The C-Suite
  • What are the revenue goals and business objectives for the company?

  • How will your work be reviewed? What constitutes success? What constitutes failure?

  • What is your role/interaction with the board?

3. Get Familiar with the Contracting Landscape

Understanding how the business manages contracts should be another early priority. Here are some of the most important contracting questions to answer.

Contract Storage
  • Where are your company contracts stored?

  • Is there an existing contract management system in place?

  • Who has access to company contracts?

Contract Details
  • Are there standard contract templates in place?

  • What is the revenue currently being generated by all sales contracts?

  • What is the current structure of your company's contracts?

  • What is the average length of your company's contracts?

Contract Management
  • What does the existing approval process look like?

  • How are key elements being tracked? (Parties, value, termination provisions, etc.)

  • Is there a current process for ensuring that the status of all active contracts is carefully and thoughtfully managed?

4. Understand Risk Management

Understanding the risk management landscape, both within the organization and across the industry, will allow you to get out in front of any potential issues that your team may face.

Responsibilities
  • Who owns risk management at your company? If it's you, get clear on expectations.

  • What are the existing insurance policies at your company?

  • Is there a disaster recovery tool in place for key corporate documentation? (Digital document storage solution)

5. Establish Tools & Resources to Help You and Your Team Succeed

Once you have a strong understanding of the business and key players, you can start focusing on the tools your team needs to work effectively and efficiently. Here are a few areas to explore.

Resources
  • Are employment guidelines clearly defined and available for you and your team?

  • Share access to professional resources: Online education, CLE sources, relevant associations, newsletters, etc.

Tools
  • How is information shared and managed between team members?

  • Establish a paperless environment: e-signature tool, contract management system, secure email, etc.

To read more on what to expect in your new in-house counsel position, download Surviving and Conquering Your New Role as Corporate Counsel: Tips for a Successful Career Transition.

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