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    January 2, 2008  

How to Go

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So you're working at that law firm, staring out the window, thinking how great it would be as a GC somewhere, orchestrating outside attorneys to do the detail work while you strategize with your CEO, and even put yourself on the path to become top dog someday.? The New Year is the time to make it happen . . . but how do you make the leap?? Denise Grant of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates comes across plenty of attorneys trying to go in-house-but says some aren't going about it the right way.? We thought we'd do you a public service and get Denise's top 5 tips on how to put yourself in the running (or figure out if you really want it in the first place).


Denise spends up to half her time filling GC positions.? She has recently filled top legal jobs at Home Depot, Fannie Mae, NPR, Bosch, Iridium Satellite, and Lehman Brothers.? So yeah . . . she knows what she's doing.? Denise is also a lawyer herself; while practicing, she toiled at Morgan Lewis and served as counsel to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).


Number 5:? Value Equity

Lookee here-not everyone is going to dump barrels-full of cash on you like your law firm does.? If you're going in house, Denise says that a sizeable portion of your compensation package is likely to come in stock or options-in other words, some form of equity. If that kind of personal stake (with its potential upside, which can be quite significant over the long term, surpassing what you might see in your firm) charges you up, you've got the right stuff.? But if a smaller paycheck in the short term is going to nag at you, you might want to stay snug in those golden handcuffs.

Number 4:? Be a Manager

"Companies want people who can manage," Denise says, so you'd be wise to establish some credentials for yourself.? There are only so many management roles in private practice (Recruiting Committee Chair might not wow people, but it's a start). You can also flex your management muscles in civic and professional organizations.? Also, if you're managing teams of lawyers on cases or projects, start acting like a manager in those instances and think about how those skills would transfer in-house. If you're breaking out in hives just thinking about this, take it as a sign.

Number 3:? Don't Be a Glamour Hog

If constant cutting-edge deal work or starring in the courtroom is what really drives you, think long and hard about the GC thing.? Denise says that GC work involves everything "from the sublime to the ridiculous."? While in-house work can be among the most sophisticated out there, it may not be cutting edge every day of the week. The thrill of GC work comes from doing whatever you can to help your business client function best, which at any given moment probably won't involve Fourteenth Amendment arguments before the Supreme Court.?


Number 2:? Board Experience

These days, companies want their GCs to know their way around a Board of Directors and have some kind of governance experience, so get yourself exposed to Board work.? While you probably aren't going to be serving as a Board member of a public company, you can do work that gets you in front of Boards or Board Committees.? Experience counseling a Board on any topic can put you a step ahead of the competition. You might wanna' learn rules of corporate governance and even how to take minutes.

Number 1:? Get a Reputation
Not the bad kind, mind you.? Denise says that most often companies want GCs to be experts in something - a particular area of the law or the field in which the company does business.? It's invaluable, Denise says, to be known as a leading lawyer in your chosen area, or as someone "who can really partner with a client and help with pragmatic business questions."? Companies want a GC who can be a "wise and trusted counselor" on a wide range of matters. Be warned:? Denise says that speaking on every panel in town probably won't accomplish this for you (if you have time for all that, what are you actually doing for clients?).? It's going to take some good old fashioned work.

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