As skilled lawyers, General Counsel generally have intuition regarding people, which allows them to identify skills in others and form strong teams around them. More likely than not, a General Counsel has spent time working and learning within the hierarchy of a law firm and will leverage that experience to bring that same efficiency to their department. This legal departmental efficiency, however, is not limited to cultivating productive employees. The General Counsel knows how to manage a team through experience in working with a variety of clients in various corporate structures. As such, the General Counsel is able to pinpoint the legal needs of their particular company and build a legal department that suits the company’s needs.
A legal team can be structured similar to a small law firm and talent can be developed by building legal expertise and growing talent from within. Ideally, expertise is gained by having a few more seasoned attorneys who can oversee and work with junior attorneys. The GC needs to be able to determine which area of expertise is needed in-house on a daily basis, as opposed to other legal needs that are rare and, if and when needed, could be outsourced to a law firm. Hiring specialized in-house counsel allows the company to act quickly and efficiently, without having to incur the expense of outside counsel every time such legal specialization is needed. An example of this is including an employment lawyer on staff – given that most companies have workers and employees and inevitably face legally related employment issues. By having specialized in-house counsel, the corporate counsel is able to understand the company culture, nuances and business needs far better than any attorney who is counseling from outside the company’s walls.
The GC is also able to recognize and develop the talent of individual attorneys on the legal team and help the in-house attorneys learn from each other and grow within the ranks. A structure that works well as the legal department grows is allowing for compartmentalization of legal expertise – similar to law firms – including contracts, litigation, regulatory compliance, intellectual property, employment and the like. There would naturally be specific attorneys, or legal teams, that address the variety of legal needs within the organization.
Another method that GCs can utilize to develop talent is by hiring contract attorneys – not via a temp or staffing agency, but by reviewing resumes and hiring attorneys for a specific project. Often talent is able to be both identified and developed through such project attorneys. In addition, the project attorneys are able to determine if they find the legal work at the company interesting, and if they are adaptable to the company culture.
By far one of the best methods for cultivating talent is by implementation of a legal department internship program. Such a program allows both students and companies to determine the next legal employees that will join their enterprise. A corporate legal internship program is similar to those at law firms – whether a class of 2 or 10 – the interns experience the type of legal work performed at the company and, at the same time, the company gets a head-start at developing talent in a specific industry. For example, the internship program at Digital Risk exposes students to the regulatory compliance complexity of the mortgage industry, and students leave the program extremely well versed in the consumer finance regulations promulgated by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the 50 states. Furthermore, the interns contribute to the company by their innovative use of technology and new approach to issues that may have been overlooked by those in the legal or corporate industry for many years.
Growing talent from within a law firm has been the role model for years, however many GCs shy away from developing legal talent from within. While developing talent takes effort, work and patience, legal departments, companies and the related industries are all beneficiaries of such energies to develop talent.