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Tips for New General Counsel: Ensuring a Smooth Transition

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

We previously wrote a three-part series on the qualities of "GCs of the Future," inspired by the Association of Corporate Counsel's study entitled, "Skills for the 21st Century General Counsel." In our research, we came across a white paper released by The Huron Legal Institute, providing tips for new general counsel. In reviewing the ten tips, we noticed that they all played well into the three leading characteristics for GCs of the future.

Since you're probably very busy learning the ropes of your new position, we thought we'd consolidate these tips for you, and frame them as they pertain to important GCs of the future qualities. As new general counsel, your future is now. 

Here are some ways to ensure a smooth transition.

The Fearless Leader

As the leader of the legal department, there are certain responsibilities unique to your position. As such, you must make an early effort to get to know your team (internal and external) to have an understanding of whom you are leading. During the process, you should also get to know the current work load, and who handles what.

All the while, keep an eye out for future leaders -- you will need to build a solid team for an effective legal department. Finally, be sure to create a vision for the legal department, and as the leader, begin to carve the path to future success.

The "Counselor in Chief"

One of the most important aspects of general counsel is the role as counselor, and in this day of strict corporate compliance, the GC is often left holding the hands of executives. As you transition into your new position, be sure to get to know all of the legal department's clients -- you are now their counselor in chief. By starting to build the relationship with your clients early in the process, you are "build[ing] the foundation for a 'trusted advisor' relationship," according to The Huron Legal Institute.

The Business Strategist

General counsel must also be adept at making business decisions, and an integral key to that is understanding the legal department's role in the overall revenue stream of the company, and understanding the main business issues confronting the corporation as a whole.

Will You Bring on an LDO Manager?

Some of the issues for new general counsel have to do with benchmarking, conducting departmental and client reviews, tracking legal spend, and reviewing "processes and technology that support the work," says Huron. However, the new trend in legal departments is to delegate these kinds of tasks -- the business of running the legal department -- to legal department operations managers. No doubt you should be familiar with these issues, but you may want to bring on an LDO manager to oversee them.

Your new career as general counsel may be forecasted by how you handle your transition. According to Huron, the single most important thing you can do is create a 90-day plan. What the plan entails will depend on the size of the legal department and company, and how familiar you are with them, but if you take one thing away -- have a plan in place before you start.

What's the single most important thing to do as new general counsel? Let us know @FindLawLP on Twitter.

Editor's Note, March 15, 2016: This post was first published in March 2014. It has since been updated.

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