This week I attended “Women GC’s Speak,” a New York City Bar Association panel moderated by Debbie Epstein Henry. Among the four General Counsel panelists, the leadership message was exceedingly clear:
Take on challenges,
push yourself to be a little uncomfortable,
fill leadership gaps, and
figure it out.
Panelists and moderator, from left to right: Ayssa Harvey Dawson, Cari Robinson, Debbie Epstein Henry (moderator), Romy Horn and Sonia Low. Photograph copyright 2019 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.
Here are four specific insights the panelists shared that echo and underscore the coaching work I do with my General Counsel clients:
Romy Horn, General Counsel of the W2O Group, suggested that among the business aspects a law firm attorney (for example) needs to learn to transition into a GC role, there is one key aspect that many would-be General Counsel fail to grasp:
“Finance. [To be a trusted advisor and excel in a GC role], lawyers in companies need to understand the financial aspects of what they are doing.”
Sonia Low, VP, General Counsel and Secretary of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, reminded the audience that GCs are valued not for reciting the law but for helping senior leaders and others meet their business goals. To be a problem solver and transcend the legal function, don’t be afraid to ask:
“Can I come with you to these conventions? I’d like to meet more CEOs and CFOs, so I can better understand what drives them.”
Ayssa Harvey Dawson, General Counsel, Head of Legal, Privacy and Data Governance of Sidewalk Labs, shared that too many attorneys are caught in the “qualifications” trap and talk themselves out of opportunities as a result.
“Qualifications are subjective. When my last company was bought, I thought to myself, what do I want to do next? What I have learned from that is to never be afraid to embrace change.”
Cari Robinson, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Revlon, echoed that advice, adding that you are never going to know everything about a business, especially if you change industries, so:
“You can’t be bashful about asking people to slow down and explain things to you.”
Robinson also shared two essential factors that have helped her succeed as a GC:
first, her global litigation background, which showed her “a little piece of a lot of things” that collectively taught her “how to think about business” and made her a very nimble attorney, ready to face any opportunity, challenge or crisis situation; and
second, her evolution from a focus on building her own career to supporting and building out her team.
For more information about this panel and the sponsoring committees, click here.
Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, writer and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. In her practice serving lawyers, she coaches General Counsels, law firm partners, counsel and associates, as well as government, academic and non-profit attorneys.