(In-House) Superstars Wanted for a Disruptive Era

09 Jan 2019

On the one hand, GCs on the hunt for in-house talent have never had it so good. The quality and depth of young lawyers in the market have never been higher in the history of the legal profession. On the other hand, competition for that talent has never been fiercer.

To win the talent war, GCs must make recruiting a priority, which means knowing what to look for and committing to finding the best. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting. Larger companies with bigger departments will have the luxury of looking for specialty skills and expertise, while smaller ones will often have to look for a Jack or Jill of all trades.

EQ versus legal skills

No matter a company’s size or industry, recruiting in this era of continuous change and technological disruption cannot just be about a candidate’s legal skills and educational pedigree. Intangibles like emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) must also be considered and weighed heavily.

“For an in-house lawyer, your IQ is a given,” says Christopher Hurst, Director of Legal In-House at executive search firm Carlyle Kingswood Global. “It’s all about your EQ. You need to have doorman to chairman communication skills, the ability to engage all personality types at all levels. If you are too ‘ivory tower,’ too much of a lawyer, or lack emotional intelligence, you’re going to fail. Businesses want lawyers they can relate to, who are striving for the common goal of commercial success, not simply technicians.”

“In house counsel have a unique perspective on a business and are a nexus across function and geography,” comments Chris Fox, Chief Legal Officer of online gaming company Kambi. “I expect my team to be curious, to problem solve, and to leverage their EQ and legal skills to proactively influence the way the business does things for the better. Not every candidate has this ability!”

Diversity really does matter

Diversity must also be at the top of the list. It is now well-established that, all other things being equal, diverse teams outperform more homogenous teams. GCs must make the extra effort to look beyond their own networks to make sure they’re drawing from the widest talent pool available.

“We have to be mindful of our own bias toward the familiar—to wanting things to look like they’ve always looked,” says Paul Gilbert, CEO of LBC Wise Counsel, a specialist management consultancy for law firms and in-house legal teams. “GCs should make sure in the recruitment process that they’ve got some expertise either in the room or on hand which is challenging their assumption and challenging their needs, so the right people come forward in the right way.”

Judgment requires real experience

Evidence of sound judgment and strong reasoning skills must also be present, says

Jonathan Pearl, former Executive Vice President, Legal & Compliance, for Sony Electronics. “Increasingly, companies should be looking for lawyers who have real-world experience for some of the things they’re going to be facing every day. Not from a law perspective, but what they’ve seen.”

Creating the right environment for millennials

Finally, the key to winning the talent war and then retaining their troops requires GCs to offer a sustainable, meritocratic, and collaborative environment. In a recent white paper for Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, Heidi K. Gardner wrote that, according to her research, it is crucial to sell and maintain a collaborative work environment, especially when it comes to millennials. “When lawyers get collaboration right—that is, do complex work that spans legal disciplines, business units, or geographies within their organization—they produce better business outcomes and attract and retain the highest-caliber talent.”

Is your role being redefined? You’re only as good as your team. Are you building and developing talent for the future? How can you make your team attractive to the new generation of lawyers?

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “The GC {Re}Defined,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.



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