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If you are an executive who has been slogging along at a job search without a strategy, you can feel like you have hit quicksand with no way to get out.

Stop wasting time on what doesn’t matter. There are three things you need to get right:

  1. Know Yourself – have the self-awareness to realize your strengths, preferences, work style and skill gaps
  2. Know Your Audience – understand how to present yourself to the right people in the right way
  3. Reach and Convince Decision Makers – find and persuade them to hire you or create an opportunity for you

These three “pillars” of your search can guide your direction and help you invest your precious job search hours in activities that will pay off.

I detail these three essential job search elements in my recent article on Forbes (click here) and give in-depth guidance to help you get to the bottom of them in my book, Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook (click here), including an entire chapter on personal branding.

amsegal-0111-croppedAnne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume strategist, Forbes Coaches Council member and former practicing attorney. She is the author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook (available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and local booksellers). To reach her, click here.

Image credit: Adobe Stock.

 

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Becoming a General Counsel (GC) or Chief Legal Officer (CLO), or making a move to a more senior GC or CLO role at a more prominent company, is not simply a matter of rising through the ranks or toiling away for years at a law firm and then deciding one day that you would like to throw in your hat for the position. Years ago, longevity in the legal field, motivation to fill the role and a projection of confidence may have been sufficient to mint a new GC or CLO, but the world has changed and the role of General Counsel has evolved along with it.

In today’s complex and competitive marketplace, successful General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers need to excel across a range of key, identifiable areas (spelled out below) and demonstrate their ability to be a key asset to their companies, helping make or break their long-term success. Often,  GCs and CLOs also run a legal staff and provide leadership and management of other attorneys, compliance professionals and/or administrative personnel. In addition, they may be members of an executive team and collaborate with cross-functional groups to give input on diverse areas such as product development and marketing.

Successful GCs need to excel and execute across a range of key, identifiable areas.

If you are currently in a GC role and want to raise your game (or emphasize your value proposition in an upcoming interview), or if you are looking to become a GC or CLO from a law firm or in-house counsel spot, here are eight core qualities you must cultivate to be successful in this key role.

Know the business inside and out.

1.  Understand the big picture of the business and industry. This point is emphasized so often that the words “big picture” begin to sound cliché, but it is nonetheless #1 on the list of attributes for a successful General Counsel.

The most effective GCs focus on the business first and understand that the legal aspects of any deal, regulatory requirement or dispute must be viewed from the lens of the business goals. (In the case of a non-profit organization, the “business” is the “mission,” and the same principals apply.) This point is especially relevant for attorneys who are aiming to switch from a law firm setting directly to a General Counsel role, as they may not have been as close to the day-to-day needs of the business while working on high-level matters such as acquisitions, litigation or other big ticket items.

To facilitate your top-down understanding, you should ask yourself questions such as:

Corporate Matters:  How does the current acquisition, joint venture, contract or other transaction create value for our company? What risks or implications does it hold, what failures are possible (and how likely are they to happen) and how does it fare in the overall cost-benefit analysis? How will we integrate what is new into what we already have, and who needs to be on board? What should we be thinking about that hasn’t yet been raised?

Compliance: What is the impact and true cost of compliance with current and proposed regulations, and how can we effectively meet our obligations or, if appropriate, obviate the need to comply?

Disputes and Litigation: What is the best approach to meet our short and long-term objectives in the case of a dispute? What unintended consequences can result from our range of possible litigation strategies and how could they affect our business? Is there a better way to get to the right answer?

Marketplace: Are there disruptions in our industry that present opportunities or threats, legal or otherwise? How should we address them and/or get ahead of the game?

Generally: How else can or should we be pro-active in any areas that could have an impact on our business or legal strategy and what economic, political, technological, industry and cultural developments should we monitor? How often? Whom shall I engage (in meetings, conversations and otherwise) in order to stay informed and make the best decisions on that front? 

And personally, you should ask yourself:

How does my role as an executive and attorney fit into the big picture? What do I bring to the table, and how can I bring more?


A key part of understanding the big picture is having a strong handle on financial matters. Understand and take ownership of P&L (even if at first it is only for a single project, or you have “derivative” or shared ownership), speak about your accomplishments in terms of the value you add (money in or costs and risks avoided) and know how to maximize the return on your company’s investment in you and your team.

2.  Demonstrate good judgment. Gain a reputation for making the right calls and connecting the dots with limited information to help your team make it to the finish line on deadline and without any snags. (Note: The best way to cultivate good judgment is by rolling up your sleeves and practicing decision-making under pressure – which may mean stepping out of your comfort zone – to gain exposure, confidence and feedback. It can only learned by doing.)

Good judgment is sometimes called a “sixth sense” or an “ability to see around corners” from business and legal perspectives. Whatever you call it, you cannot be an effective GC without it.

Talk like a business person. Not a lawyer.

3.  Don’t talk like a lawyer. Talk like a business person. Sometimes this is called “talking in English rather than legalese,” but it goes beyond that. The best GCs can prioritize and communicate the key business points and know how to signal and address potential legal issues without dragging business leaders into the fray or wasting their time on concerns that the lawyers need to work out among themselves. They also know how to gently reign in business folks who get ahead of themselves by ignoring those legal risks with which they actually should concern themselves, including business risks that are masquerading as legal risks.

One of the best ways to learn how to talk like a business person (or, more specifically, unlearn how to talk like a lawyer) is to spend time with them, hear them converse, get into their heads and internalize their concerns. In other words, the road to GC is not paved by putting your head down and doing your work. Like good judgment, you can only learn to communicate better by doing.

The road to GC is not paved by putting your head down and doing your work.

4.  Be humble. At the end of the day, the legal function is a support function. Yes, lawyers help steer the boat, but a successful GC understands that sometimes business leaders make decisions that do not follow the best advice of counsel, taking on what a “reasoned head” might decide is too much unnecessary risk. Your potential recourse in this situation, if you disagree with your business counterparts on whether your legal advice is required or simply “advisable,” is fourfold:

(a) you could move over to the business side and do a better job yourself,

(b) you could leave (if you feel consistently disrespected or are concerned about ethics or the longevity of the company or your role);

(c) you could find ways to strengthen your own and/or your team’s standing within the organization so that your advice is taken more seriously (if not always followed); or

(d) you could hold your ground (withholding legal approval) and/or escalate your concerns.

Save the fights for when they really matter, not for when they help you feel vindicated, save face or appear to know best. Having a reputation for “resistance” to business needs is not a good long-term strategy at any company, as it undermines your authority. If you feel that you are too often at loggerheads with your business folks, the best strategy may be to move on to a company that you believe has better business practices or is a better match for your own risk-tolerance levels. (Conversely, if you are at a company that loses out on opportunities because it never takes sufficient risk, in your opinion, you may also be well served by seeking a stronger fit.)

5.  Take leadership roles. Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves; you need to create them. This means getting in front of the Board of Directors, President or CEO whenever appropriate and possible, making presentations to industry or key clients, spearheading/overseeing important projects and making yourself known as a person of vision and action within the company and outside of it. The best way to get tapped for a GC role, or increase your impact if you are already in one, is to be (and create the reputation of being) someone who effectively leads, mentors, sponsors, motivates, teaches and influences others. In short, make leadership a centerpiece in your professional mission and personal brand.

Make leadership central to your professional mission and personal brand.

6.  Cultivate your political capital. Form relationships and maintain consistent lines of communication with key people inside your company, across your industry and beyond. The greater your political capital, the more you can leverage your current role and be considered for positions with increasing responsibility. If you are a law firm partner or counsel hoping to transition in-house, increase your network of in-house players and business leaders, so that you understand their perspectives and have them in your corner when the need arises. In addition, if you have raised your political capital in the marketplace, you will present as a stronger candidate if and when the opportunity for a lateral move or promotion becomes available.

7. Learn to manage others and delegate work. There may be many GCs and CLOs who have taken on the role without knowing how to manage a group of talented professionals and assign the right tasks to the right players, but to build a successful career as a General Counsel, you will need to guard your own time while managing the performance and workload of your team (which may include outside counsel). 

8.  Have a solid and broad range of substantive legal skills. Increasing and broadening your substantive legal knowledge is only one piece of the GC equation. I address it last because while having a well-developed legal “head” and intuition is a baseline, legal knowledge alone is not sufficient to be an effective General Counsel.

The problem with many legal roles is that an attorney becomes siloed (or niched) into a particular area of practice, whether it is litigation, contracts or otherwise. To be effective, GCs need to address directly or oversee all legal needs of their company or organization. This means they may need expertise or at least a passing knowledge (to “know what they don’t know and should find out,” as the phrase goes) in commercial matters, corporate governance, employment, litigation, real estate, tax, executive compensation, compliance and risk management, in varying orders and degree.

If your goal is to raise to the level of General Counsel or (if currently a GC) become a bigger fish or swim in a bigger pond, you should conduct what I sometimes call a “gap analysis” to determine what is missing in the mix, then work on how you can deepen and round out your skills. Not only will this make you a stronger GC candidate, it will make you a better lawyer and add to your ability to provide judgment in a crisis and day-to-day.

Find and close any gaps in your substantive legal skills. 

Clearly the role of a General Counsel is dynamic and requires a broad range of talents and skills that cannot all be captured in a short summary. Instead, treat these seven points as a roadmap, and feel free to leave me a note in the comments section with your own insights. For further reading, I also suggest “So You Want to Be a General Counsel? How to Maximize Your Chances,” published in the ACC Docket and also available 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. 

© 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.
Image: Adobe Stock.
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I am often asked what I can offer to clients to improve their résumé, as a means to speed up and target their job search process. If you would like to know this as well, please READ ON!

This post is written with the skeptics in mind. God bless the skeptics. They keep the rest of us in check. So here it goes:

The value of working with a professional résumé writer is often not clear until after you have gone through the process and see the finished product. This short introduction serves as a preview and overview of the process.

You may have a sneaking suspicion that you are not in the driver’s seat – the idea of working on your résumé generates fear, or the document is a sore spot in your career advancement or job search.

You know that you are an amazing candidate if you could just get the right words on the page, but you aren’t sure how to do that or can’t seem to find (or prioritize) the time to get it right.

As I have said in the past, résumés are marketing documents. They are not a career retrospective of what you’ve done or an “obituary” of your work history, education and other professional information. Your résumé is a sales piece, and what you are selling is you. What can you bring to the role that puts you at the top of the pile?

Great résumés convey power. While a strong résumé won’t get you a job on its own, it will position you as a competitive candidate and, if there’s a potential match, serve as a compelling “appetizer” to get you to the main course – your next career move.

If you are uncomfortable selling yourself on paper, or if you need help putting into words what you know you can do, you have come to the right place.

What are the main benefits of working with Anne Marie Segal to write my résumé?

 1) You will possess a solid marketing document that positions you for the roles you are targeting.

Through our work together, we create a solid marketing document that highlights your achievements, strengths and unique offer. With the new résumé in hand, you will be positioned to obtain a role that is a true “fit” for you (given your short-term and long-term goals) and leverage your value during hiring negotiations.

We achieve this by balancing the two main elements that every résumé needs:

BREVITY and

DIFFERENTIATION

Today’s résumés need to be clearly and tightly written, with keywords and summaries that attract the attention of someone within six to ten seconds. There are many more candidates going for each open position than in years past, so you will need to stand out quick to make an impression.

At the same time, brevity alone does not make a great résumé. You also need to differentiate yourself from every other “results-driven” candidate or “good communicator” on the block. You are unique. In your résumé, we don’t market something parroted from a book or the Internet, we market you.

2) You will no longer lose out on potential opportunities because you are unsure of how to present yourself.

The worst thing you can do when looking for a job, or any career advancement that requires a similar interview process, is to stagnate out of fear, worry or similar emotions. Inertia will not get you a job. It is not your friend, even if it feels as comfortable as an old pair of jeans. I work with candidates all the time to get them moving forward, both in coaching and in résumé writing.

3) You will recognize your value and learn how to communicate it to potential employers.

From the “résumé interview process” – during which we reconstruct your work and education highlights, keywords and other résumé elements from the ground up – you will gain key insights into the value you bring to the marketplace.

Have you ever sat down and wrote out your unique “return on investment” (ROI)? What ROI would a potential employer receive from its investment in you? When I work with candidates, we address this question head on, so you can present yourself with confidence and clarity on the value you bring to each open role. People don’t get hired because they are liked (although it helps). They get hired to solve problems. What problems do you solve?

After working together, the transformation of your résumé will be obvious. (If it’s not, we should talk.) The value of this key document will become even more evident when you begin to send it around and hear your network, recruiters, interviewers and others say:

“Ah, I get what you’re looking for.”

“What a great résumé.”

“I can really see the value you bring.”

“I have a role that I’d really like to recommend you for.”

“When can you start?”

Anne Marie Segal is a résumé writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here. This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

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Friends and colleagues, I have made a game-changing decision. Some of you have already heard, as emails and successive social media posts create a series of “mini-launches” rather than one definitive LAUNCH.

I am hanging up my shingle, stepping aside from the practice of law, and launching a business and executive coaching practice geared toward attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. More details to come soon, as I work on reconstructing the SEGAL LAW BLOG into my new coaching blog.

In the meantime, here’s my new website: www.segalcoaching.com.

Thanks again for all of your support!

The best is yet to come.

-Anne Marie

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Starting a high-charging company or sorting out the employment landscape as a newly-landed executive? Here are 10 essential employment-related agreements you’ll want to be familiar with.

[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a solo law practice. When published, it was one of my most popular posts. Since April 2015, I have been working with attorney, executive and entrepreneur clients as a career coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]

1) Offer Letter. This is the initial offer of employment to a future employee. The letter should state the individual’s title, compensation, chief benefits (such as vacation time and 401(k)), intended start date and other basic facts. If the offer of employment is subject to certain conditions – generally they are – these should be outlined in the letter. These may include work authorization, background checks and drug screening, as well as (in some cases) agreement to be bound by certain contracts or employee handbooks. Generally an executive or other employee who receives an offer subject to a noncompete would be well-advised to ask for a copy of the agreement and read it, preferably with an attorney, prior to accepting the position. Note, however, that in certain jurisdictions a noncompete that is not presented prior to employment is not binding.

2) Employment Agreement. Although some companies use these indiscriminately, the most savvy among them save employment agreements for top employees who have the leverage to require them. Some employment agreements are rather basic documents that simply spell out the terms of the job. Others are complex, lengthy documents that include terms such as severance payments upon a termination with or without cause or change of control. All employment agreements should spell out the basic terms, such as duties, base and bonus compensation and length of guaranteed employment (if any) with relevant conditions attached. Employment agreements may also contain noncompete, non-solicit, confidentiality and other provisions, explained below.

3) Consulting Agreement. Consulting agreements are, as the name suggests, used to employ consultants on a long-term or temporary basis. At times, an individual may be an employee at one company and a consultant at an affiliated entity, and the consulting agreement serves to document the additional relationship and any related compensation. A consulting agreement should clearly spell out the services to be rendered, how they shall be delivered, what fees shall be paid and on what basis (e.g., hourly or monthly, upon receipt of an invoice or other time period) and the manner that the consulting arrangement can be terminated by either party. The agreement should also contain language that the consultant cannot bind the company, that he or she is an independent contractor responsible for deductions and taxes and similar provisions.

Businesses should consider carefully whether an individual taken on as a “consultant” or other “independent contractor” would not likely be recharacterized as an “employee”, as the financial penalties of failing to pay employment taxes and other consequences can be substantial. This is especially true if the business intends to operate solely through independent contractors and essentially treats them as employees (controlling scheduling, requiring services to be delivered on-site and other employment aspects).

4) Noncompete. Non-competition agreements or provisions are restrictive covenants that prohibit an employee from engaging in a competing activity. Their effectiveness depends on many factors, including the law of the controlling jurisdiction. In jurisdictions that tend to uphold noncompetes, whether as written or as modified (reduced in scope) by the court, two main factors are the length of the restriction and the geographic scope. Of all employment-related agreements, noncompetes can be the most complex and restrictive. Therefore, they are the most important to read and understand before signing.

Note: I do not give the above guidance lightly, as I have occasionally seen highly-educated, highly-paid individuals simply sign noncompetes and other restrictive covenants without even reading them. Not a smart thing to do, especially in this economy!

5) Non-solicitation. Non-solicit provisions – these are usually part of a larger agreement – restrict an executive or other employee from recruiting or hiring individuals from a current employer on behalf of a third party. They can also restrict other forms of “solicitation”, such as soliciting customers, investors or business opportunities. Since non-solicitation provisions do not “restrain employment” they can be easier to enforce in the courts than non-competition clauses.

6) ConfidentialityA confidentiality agreement is designed to keep non-public information from entering into the public domain. Generally there is no term or end date on the time period that the information needs to be kept confidential, as long as it has not become public (generally or known within the relevant industry) through no fault of the person receiving the confidential information. This is especially true in the case of trade secrets, which by their nature must remain confidential to retain their value.

7) Work for Hire and Assignment of Inventions. Intellectual property, such as copyrights, generally belong to the employer absent a special agreement to the contrary. This is not true in certain contexts where the creation is entirely unrelated to an individual’s work assignment (e.g., if an engineer in charge of quality control wrote a Broadway play in his or her spare time.) For independent contractors (ICs), work for hire and assignment provisions should be in place to delineate who owns any non-tangible property that the IC has created for a company. In some cases, the parties should draft carve outs for intellectual property (from copyrights to trading algorithms) that were created by an employee or consultant prior to employment if such individual wishes (with the company’s agreement) to retain as his or her property and license it for use, rather than transfer it, to the company with which he or she is employed or engaged. Provisions that assign ownership of any or certain intellectual property or inventions (i.e., assignment of inventions provisions) often accompany work for hire provisions, as a backstop to assure the rights of a company that expects work for hire provisions to uphold its ownership.

8) Indemnification. In the employment context, an indemnification agreement is offered to a key individual who may be exposed to liability under his or her fiduciary duties or for other reasons. A company should offer a broad indemnity as well as insurance to the individual to induce him or her to take on a role of responsibility. There are relatively standard provisions that should accompany all indemnities, although the language used to express them may vary, and these should be carefully drafted and/or reviewed.

9) Severance. In the case of top executives, severance terms may be agreed in advance at the time of employment or upon a promotion. For other employees, they may be extended upon termination. Severance agreements include, among other provisions, the amount of severance offered in lieu of the contracted notice period, any extension of benefits, a noncompete (if applicable) and a release.

10) Release. A company may ask for a release of all potential claims by an employee against the company in exchange for consideration offered. The consideration must be in addition to whatever money or property the employee was already entitled, and the amount will vary based on factors such as the employee’s regular compensation when employed. An employee should read a release agreement with care to ensure that he or she is not releasing claims that have already vested in the employee or would vest upon termination, such as vested stock that was part of a benefits package.

There is an additional document – not an “agreement” per se – that is often critical in the employment relationship. This is the employee handbook.

From an employer’s standpoint, once a small handful of employees is hired it is helpful to start putting company policies in place. At some point, based on size and other factors, an employee handbook is a veritable necessity. It should be acknowledged in writing by all employees upon employment and again upon each significant revision (or at least annually). From an employee’s standpoint, it is important to know that although a handbook is not an individual contract between each employer and employee, employees are bound by its terms.

This short summary obviously does not cover all of the nuances of the above agreements.

Nothing posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship. You should consult your attorney to discuss the facts of your situation. This is a public forum. Please do not post confidential information.