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Seasoned fashion general counsel Donna Edbril says that "[a] lot of people come with different preconceived notions about lawyers -- and many of those notions aren't positive."
ForeFront magazine got a hold of Edbril and asked her to share her thoughts on what tips would be useful for lawyers thinking of changing over to in-house legal work. She is keenly aware of many of the negative and unflattering stereotypes that lawyers enjoy, and says that in order to be an effective in-houser, a lawyer should dispel all of those preconceptions.
Don't Say "No"
Edbril's approach seems to push a culture of positivism that stresses business acumen over being overly-lawyerly. "It seems to be that, unless something is illegal, it's not the role of a lawyer to say 'no,'" she said. However, she stresses that a lawyer should also be realistic and to present sound risk assessment to clients. As we have noted in past posts, really this comes down to lawyers wearing two hats -- one for business, one for law. In fact, there's growing evidence that the top brass in companies are seeking out GC for strategic planning, and less idea killing.
Inside Versus Outside
Edbril's observations are that in-house attorneys work at a different pace and style than other attorneys. IH lawyers generally have to work at the pace of the business, and nobody is saying that it's a walk in the park. Businesses are at the mercy of market cycles, supply shortages, and fiscal reports. But at the same time, in house counsel are at the mercy of their company's demands. Sometimes this requires that an attorney move forward and give reasonable advice without having all the information they would prefer.
A successful in-house lawyer must be one who can seamlessly integrate themselves into the firm's company and to "think beyond [her] role as a lawyer." Of course, there are trade-offs to this multiple-personality juggling, but the demand for versatile in-house folks continues to grow. The best scenario is when the I-H attorney is just like everyone else at the meeting -- but with a license. She brings real value and a legal angle. This can start by bringing a broad range of relevant experience and skill sets to the table: IP, contracts, employment law, etc.
Edbril describes her current job as a learning experience that is both exciting and intellectually challenging in that she is required to tackle jobs that she has never done before -- like SEC disclosures. This should be encouraging news to lawyers who have an opportunity to move laterally into IH work, but who are afraid to do so for lack of experience. It at least says that one can learn on the job and still be effective in her in-house position.
Bottom line: Find a way to meet the client's goals; and don't say no ... if you can help it.
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