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11 min read

GC Tips: How to Build Rapport in a New In-House Role

This article was originally published by Law360 Pulse. Experts answer questions on career and workplace conundrums in this Law360 Pulse guest column series. In this installment, Tim Parilla, Chief Legal Officer at LinkSquares, explains how new in-house lawyers can start building rapport with colleagues both within and outside their legal departments. 

Q: I never worked outside law firms before joining my current in-house counsel role in a large corporation. What are some ways I can build relationships with both lawyer and nonlawyer colleagues in order to advance my career? 

—In-house lawyer at Fortune 500 company 

For starters, congratulations on landing your new role! It's really an exciting time to be an in-house counsel as more businesses are looking to legal pros to take on leadership roles. 

This is a great question. Developing relationships with colleagues is so vital to our career success for many reasons. They help us gain better insight into the business, identify pain points, become more strategic partners, and, hopefully, make some friends along the way. 

That said, it can be challenging to know where to begin establishing these relationships with our colleagues when you start a new job. Here are a few thoughts to help you get started. 

Define your brand. 

When you're first starting out as an in-house attorney, your primary focus might be to make a strong impression on certain people in the business or take on progressively more responsibility, manage teams, etc. Over time, as you continue to progress in your career, you will likely start to think about what kind of legacy you want to create at your company. 

Stated differently, what do you want to be known for? I was recently discussing this with a  friend and colleague who is a General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer who said, "At this  point in my career, I want to be known as someone our leaders want in the room when  discussing the hardest possible thing." 

The thing you want to be known for will likely change throughout your career. It will start organically, and then you will recognize it and be deliberate with the way you foster that reputation throughout the years. 

What you do well now or how you are viewed by leaders across the business is not necessarily the same today as it will be in the next five to 10 years, but as you continue to progress and grow you will recognize that your effectiveness as a leader is directly tied to how well you recognize and foster your personal brand in the context of the broader business team. 

Do you want to help streamline processes for the sales team? Provide data-driven analysis to your executive team? Can you help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at your company? 

Consider what you'd like your brand as a legal professional to be. This is the first step toward identifying the colleagues and stakeholders you need to engage. 

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Identify your clients. 

A common question for new General Counsel, particularly those just moving in-house after living in the world of law firms is, "Who is my client?" 

The reality is that you have multiple clients throughout the business that all require your attention. Some clients you should be working with include the following. 

The C-Suite 

Whether you report to the Chief Executive Officer or someone else in leadership, everyone on the executive team is a vital stakeholder who will help you be more effective in your career. 

When companies hire a new counsel, they typically are seeking to fulfill a specific need: help remove the legal obstacles preventing growth. To build goodwill with the executives, you should regularly summarize and report on the top initiatives for you and your team and be prepared to demonstrate how the work of your team is helping the organization progress. 

Sales 

If you want to make a big splash and show your value right off the bat, figure out how to help the sales team. 

One common pain point for Sales is the contract process. Anytime a salesperson closes a  deal, they need a contract drafted, amended, and approved. Look for ways to increase efficiency for the sales team to keep their momentum up, and you'll soon have a few new best friends in your company. 

Customer Success 

The folks responsible for managing customer relationships at your company need instant access to all types of client data that live in their contracts. 

Details such as renewals dates and implementation deadlines are all critical for successful teams to know, so they can give attention to high-risk customers. 

Other Support Functions 

When the sales team seals a deal, your company is required to fulfill its obligations under the agreement, and it usually takes a handful of teams throughout the organization to do that.

Providing a holistic view of what needs to be done and set up a process for streamlining access to critical information will help these other teams deliver for your customers. The more you can provide to coordinate efforts across functions, the stronger your impact on the organization will be. 

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty, either. Reach out to colleagues across many departments and see what pain points you can alleviate. Legal departments often get a  reputation for being sequestered from the rest of the company. Go out of your way to make yourself visible to leadership and your peers. Ask questions, listen to them and help where you can. 

Your position is critical to the health and growth of your business. By being proactive and seeking out opportunities to work with different people across the company, you'll lay the foundation for new relationships with lawyers and nonlawyers alike. 

Not only that, but by alleviating pain points for others, management will soon consider you a trusted resource for future problem-solving. 

Use the tools. 

All things take time, and you won't build your network overnight. 

If you're the only member of the legal team and need feedback from other lawyers outside your company, joining professional organizations is an excellent way to establish new relationships. Dig into your contacts on LinkedIn, find forums and groups with other legal professionals and General Counsel from whom you can learn, and go to conferences and engage with other attorneys in attendance. 

These easily overlooked channels can offer a surprising amount of resources and relationship-building opportunities. 

Embrace the challenge. 

You bring a unique skill set to the company that has real value to stakeholders up and down the corporate ladder. Establish yourself as a valuable business partner by defining success,  prioritizing tasks, developing rapport, and evolving as a data-driven leader. 

Your colleagues will appreciate the effort and it will illustrate that you're a strategic,  adaptable thinker ready to take on a leadership role. It may feel like uncharted territory now, but I assure you the reward is well worth it. 

Tim Parilla is the Chief Legal Officer at LinkSquares. He was formerly General Counsel at DraftKings Inc. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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Tim Parilla is the Chief Legal Officer at LinkSquares.