Tim Parilla is the chief legal officer of LinkSquares, an AI-powered legal technology platform. Views are the author’s own.
Executives are increasingly relying on in-house attorneys to be strategic, adaptable thinkers to propel the business forward.
Attorneys bring a specialized skill set and perspective to the business, but that skill set and perspective must be consistently fine-tuned to the changing business needs to ensure the legal function remains successful.
In a complex field that is highly diverse and specialized, legal professionals are well-served by staying informed about new and changing aspects of the broader legal landscape.
In-house lawyers also benefit from creating and nurturing relationships outside of the company to maintain a broad perspective on how the best legal teams lead and operate within an organization. In other words, they should aim to not get stuck operating in a self-created vacuum.
Listen to diverse voices
With more than 1.3 million lawyers practicing in the United States, there is a wealth of willing, capable (and friendly!) minds eager to connect and share perspectives on how to be effective in-house legal leaders.
Don’t limit your search to legal leaders, either.
Some of the best development, mentorship and direction that legal leaders can get is from non-legal executives who can provide unique perspectives on how the legal team should operate to best serve the needs of the other executives in the business.
Also, try to avoid getting into an echo chamber. Seek out people with diverse backgrounds, upbringings and experiences.
Embrace those who contradict your views, and learn as much as you can from those people. Doing so will make you more effective and may even change the way you view or approach different issues.
As you grow in your career, you’ll find that the more diverse perspectives you can gain, the faster and more meaningful your growth will be.
As lawyers, there are certain things we can only discuss with each other, such as our ethical obligations.
While certain ones are clear — for example, maintaining the confidence of clients and not advising clients how to break the law — other times the obligations are not so cut and dry.
Access to attorneys with different experiences will help provide more robust feedback and give insight into more nuanced situations.
Looking outwards: Tips for building external relationships
Building relationships with other legal professionals outside of your organization may not be completely necessary to your success, but those relationships sure do make becoming successful easier (and more fun). We all have our competencies and we all have our myriad of deficiencies, and a handful of areas where we can probably fake it pretty well.
Use your network to get insights from your peers who have different areas of expertise.
Here are some ways to find external attorneys and start to build relationships:
● Negotiations: Have you worked with attorneys across the table on the commercial side? If you’ve met someone in a negotiation who controls the process, has insight to the demands of the executives, and can speak with authority, that’s someone who may be able to offer you some professional insight after the deal is done. Try reaching out to that person after the deal for coffee or a time to talk. Shoot a quick congratulatory email when the deal is closed to start a new conversation.
● Law firms: If you’re working with large law firms and want to build deeper connections with other attorneys, ask the partner(s) for other in-house attorneys to share ideas. See if those partners have worked with someone in a similar company or set of circumstances, or if there is a leader in their portfolio that the partner thinks could be a good resource. Firms love the network effect amongst existing clients.
● Professional organizations: Joining trade groups and getting involved in causes that are meaningful to you are excellent ways to network. I’m on the board of the New England Legal Foundation. Through my work with the foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many attorneys, all with varying backgrounds and degrees of experience and perspectives, that I likely would have never come across in any other scenario. If you have a common cause that gives you something to connect over, that can help expand your circle.
● Industry Events: Go to conferences, attend the sessions and talk to people. If you’re taking the time away from the office to go, make the most of it. You’ll find people with a diversity of experience and backgrounds, and probably make a few good contacts along the way.
In addition to leaning into your strengths — it is equally as important to identify your blind spots, areas for growth — and the people who can help you reach your desired end-state. Find people who are better than you in both your areas of strength and weakness and learn from those professionals. Continue to get better, continue to progress in your career and build your skills, legal and otherwise.
My final words of advice on growing your legal resources network are this: Be deliberate and understand that your own development is your responsibility — you need to work on it.
It’s really easy not to attend industry events, whether conferences, local meetups or dinners run by professional organizations. It can be tough to make these things a priority.
When you have a major project coming up at work, or maybe a busy quarter end, it’s easy to put networking on the back burner and forgo the dinner at your local professional organization.
If going to these events is not part of your professional obligation to your company, you’re sacrificing your own time, time with family and friends, etc. But think of this less as a sacrifice and more as an investment in your own career and professional development.
If you want to meet new colleagues and establish new relationships, you need to make an effort and put yourself out there. And when you do actually strike up new relationships, join a trade group and attend these events, follow up and nurture those new relationships.
Get involved and have fun with it. As a result, you will have a richer experience, build more meaningful relationships and become a more well-rounded professional.