As I sat in a plush west end hotel finishing the last remnants of a pot of green tea an interesting topic arose with the general counsel I was meeting; is the buy side all it’s cracked up to be? I work with GC’s from many sectors but am most ubiquitously in contact with those in the Hedge Fund, Private Equity, Asset Management, Family Office and Sovereign Wealth space. The contact I met had worked exceptionally hard over the last year and as a senior lawyer in house the assumption is typically that those types of days should disappear as you move from your 20s/30s into your 40s and beyond up the food chain, with the bulk of the transactional work remaining with your junior counterpart(s). It led me to unfamiliar conversational territory, why a lawyer might want to avoid working for a fund completely.
It is best to begin by looking at the results you want to achieve. The two most desirable outcomes for all in house legal functions are to effectively serve their customer, ‘the business’ and reduce the total expenditure on legal while still providing that great service. Maximising the resources you have in place and developing a talent roadmap is essential to delivering on both the first and second objective.
Substantial in house legal functions usually take on a layered pyramid structure with the Group General Counsel at the top. Then one or more Deputy General Counsel below some may be based at headquarters, others leading regions of importance; EMEA or APAC or perhaps overseeing functional areas such as corporate or IP. Below these divisional heads you will find a series of further layered mini-pyramids, extending down and out to define the foundation of the department.
Lawyers are accustomed to planning their careers years in advance from an early age. You go to law school and apply for summer schemes or training contracts when you are still early on in your academic career, in the UK you might be as young as 18 years old when applying for your first taste of summer at a law firm. Along the way though all the planning: which firm? what practice area? Is replaced by a myriad of requests on your time and you find work and life takes you in directions you won’t have necessarily planned for. As a head hunter with a breadth of experience placing qualified lawyers from 1st year associate through to General Counsel (GC) across EMEA I am often asked by my network “how do I make GC?”.
The textbook says you need: good academics, solid law firm training and a good chunk of experience (time served) in your desired field. This is largely true, if you took a cross section of GC’s from various industries this pattern holds. What the above doesn’t tell you is how to put these raw ingredients together to achieve your desired result or what to do when you are thrown off course.