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Advice for Aspiring General Counsel

by Eng Chang

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According to LinkedIn (Talent Insights Report), as of Jan 2020, there are 501 individuals in Singapore that have “General Counsel” as their job title.

While in-house lawyers who hold the title could be in a sole counsel role or running the regional or global legal department with more than 10 lawyers, being appointed the General Counsel of a company is widely accepted as having reached the zenith of an in-house legal career.

How does one get to the top? What should aspiring General Counsels be doing today to achieve their goals? I had the privilege of interviewing a good number of close clients and candidates who are successful and well respected General Counsels coming from a wide array of industries. Drawing upon their collective wisdom, I was able to put together a list of practical advice that they would like to pass on to benefit more junior counsels.

Have Patience

  • It takes time to get the fundamentals right and build competencies
  • It is critical that counsels today go through enough real situations which requires practical applications of the law. Learn from those situations regardless of eventualities. Head knowledge alone is insufficient

Focus on Development

  • Don’t place too much emphasis on money when considering a new role. Think about the exposure and learning opportunities that the role can get you
  • Don’t pick your job (every piece of work is a learning opportunity)
  • Don’t say no to roles and opportunities outside of legal work – such opportunities will make you an all-rounder and have a better understanding of pain points that your stakeholders face
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do good work, stretch yourself and keep getting better
  • Be involved in business associations. Always think about expanding your contacts and network. They could be very helpful resources when you need them
  • Be open to innovation, jobs will evolve so you need to evolve as well
  • Accept feedback and improve yourself. It is okay not to be correct all the time

Integrity & Conduct

  • What you do says a lot about yourself. Always do the right thing
  • Your stakeholders trust you not just because of your sound advice, they trust you because of who you are

Be a Team Player and Build up your EQ

  • Be a team player
  • Have the awareness of how you are coming across to others. There is no point in sending emails full of legal jargons, pick up the phone, take a walk, have coffee chats with your business stakeholders. Nothing beats face time and personal touch when it comes to solving problems

Work Hard

  • Don’t be afraid of hard work
  • Do great work and your efforts will close the gap (of knowledge and years of experience)

Add Value

  • Provide solutions. Do not just churn contracts
  • Provide input early in the process of any business deals. In order to do that, you need to be involved and be accessible to your colleagues
  • Don’t feel precious about drafting the most beautiful contract. Tell yourself to see the big picture and chart the course (legal work follows thereafter and not before)

While the intended audience of the advice given is junior counsels, I personally find most of the pointers above are highly applicable regardless of one’s chosen industry and function. If you find that this is helpful, do share the link and pass it on :)

Space Executive is the leading recruitment firm in legal and compliance. For more information on how we can help you build your team contact, EC Chua - ecchua@space-exec.com our Legal & Compliance specialist today. 

EC Chua specialises in mid-management to executive hires (across all industries) including;  Chief Legal Officers / General Counsels / Head of Legal / Legal Directors other C-suite/head of businesses roles, Regional Senior Legal / Legal Counsels, Compliance Directors / Compliance Managers / Compliance Counsels, Company Secretary, Paralegals / Legal Executives, IP Counsels / Trademark Executives / Patent Attorney.