2012. How many times will some DJ play “(It’s the) End of the World” by R.E.M over the course of the next year? I’d wager about as many times as I was told ad nauseam (pun intended) that a proper Christmas gift is a Lexus (read: upscale Toyota) over the course of the Christmas break. Anyway, it’s back to work for most of us, as some of you never had a break.
I have written before about the shock of becoming a “lowly” cost center as opposed to a private practice revenue center. Also, unlike private practice, there may be a much smaller chance for advancement in a larger law department. Funny enough, folks tend to stay in jobs where they are comfortable and where they are treated well. I am fortunate to work for a company where I enjoy both, but so do the lawyers in peer groups more senior to mine. One of the selling points of my current position is the longevity of the attorneys here. People tend to come and stay — for a long time.
Thus, that sense of security also comes with layers of more senior attorneys, which makes it difficult to advance in the department. There are opportunities to switch to the business side, but if legal is where you want to be, you must attempt to distinguish yourself from a host of very good attorneys. So, today, I am offering some suggestions on how to make yourself more valuable to the department. In future columns, I will address some ideas to assist your general counsel with bringing some revenue back into the company in order to help offset your costs, and to assist you politically….
Make yourself useful.
Aside from your assigned tasks, sit on the diversity committee, do some pro bono, or just keep your ear to the ground for new projects that may come into the department. If you have the bandwidth, volunteer to assist. Make sure your boss supports your outside work, and it goes without saying, do a good job. Don’t just sit on a committee for the résumé line. Do a good job, and your other committee members will remember you. The same goes for tasks outside of your norm; you’ll likely be reporting to a different supervisor, and just like back in the firm, it is as important to work hard for one “partner” as another. Taking on new tasks can also keep your position from getting stale. Finding new opportunities within the company can keep you from looking outside your company; the market is still abysmal, and any way to keep the current position fresh can only translate to a positive.
Even if bandwidth is hard to come by, don’t be the person who is always “swamped.” From time to time, other teams will need help, and you should offer to assist when you can. Obviously, don’t drown yourself in work, but every now and then, even in a time-intensive position, be the person who offers a hand. Chances are, you’ll need a hand one day, and it is true that what goes around can come around.
Do good work outside your cubicle.
I work for a company that has acquired other entities as well as their legal departments. When mergers occur, opportunities are ripe for you to step outside your own zone and assist the “new” departments. You’ll get to know new lawyers, as well as the new business from the inside, and you’ll also have the chance to learn some new tricks. Do good work for the new people, and opportunity will be more likely to come your way in the future.
Maintain the level of excellence for your own clients.
Don’t forget the base of good will that you have built over your time in-house. The importance of keeping your own clients satisfied and “happy” cannot be stressed enough. That said, with experience, you’ll likely master your position, and be able to look outside your own team for work. Taking on other tasks can keep your hands in areas that you also enjoy, as well as impressing upon your superiors that you can be counted on as a person willing to assist the department and more importantly, the company.
In a large law department you may have limited growth potential, but that does not mean that you have to accept your job as the end all and be all. Some folks are quite content with their positions, and perform with excellence for many years. For myself, I am not satisfied with “settling.” I am still relatively young, as a person, and especially as an attorney. There is so much to learn in our field, that if you set your mind to it, you will be forever occupied with doing more and better. While I still have career aspirations, I remain cognizant of how very fortunate I am to have my position. I also know that to attain the experience necessary to meet my goals, I cannot accept complacency, and I must constantly strive to better myself, for me and my career. Happy New Year.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.