We had a chance to sit down and chat with Christine Mazzone, General Counsel at Plant Health Care, Inc. Lawyers are often looking for ways to find in-house counsel positions and Christine had some great advice for lawyers looking to make the transition to in-house counsel. She also notes that companies are looking to decrease their external legal spend so this is a good time to explore your in-house options.
LM: Where should attorneys start when looking for in-house counsel positions?
CM: Being strategic in networking efforts is always a great way to begin to make valuable contacts. I would also suggest joining associations and/or participating in industry or association events. The NCBA Corporate Counsel section provides many avenues through which in-house corporate counsel and paralegals can enhance their skills and expand their capabilities within the legal profession and their respective communities. In order to be a member, you must be an in-house attorney, but you can attend their section CLEs without being a member of the section and this is a great way to educate yourself on topics and network with other in-house counsel.
The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is another organization that can provide great contacts and professional development opportunities. However, ACC membership is open only to lawyers who practice law as employees of private-sector organizations and who do not hold themselves out to the public for the practice of law.
I also highly recommend attending events within an industry that you are experienced or interested in. For example, the NC Biotechnology Center (http://www.ncbiotech.org/) puts on many educational and networking opportunities each year. These events provide opportunities to meet non-lawyers who may be in a position to hire lawyers within their organization.
LM: Are recruiters a good step for lawyers looking for in-house counsel positions?
CM: When you talk with those in the recruiting industry today they say they are placing lawyers in law department jobs. Some of those positions are for contract work; these contract positions can be a good way to get a foot in the door at companies. Often those positions can turn into full time positions.
LM: Is networking an effective way to find in-house counsel work?
CM: The most frequent advice I give is to strategically network. Take the time to figure out what you are looking for and why. Meet people who are working in-house and ask them about their job, what tasks keep them busy all day and how they found their position. Tell everyone in your network what you are looking for and what you want to do. (Of course you will want to use discretion if you have a job and your employer does not know you are looking.) Ask people to introduce you to their friends who work in-house. View your LinkedIn connections for colleagues who work in-house or ask your LinkedIn connections to introduce you to their connections who work in-house. When networking with business colleagues, ask them about in-house opportunities they might be aware of.
LM: What interview tips can you offer?
CM: In my experience, In-house counsel are usually receptive to the informational interview and willing to help.
As you reach out to people, show your initiative. After you connect, provide options – do they prefer a telephone call, coffee or lunch. Choose a location near them and be prepared to treat them to coffee or lunch.
Be respectful of their time and be prepared. Take the time to prepare questions in advance. Ask them to describe the type of work they do, as well as a day-in-the-life. It can be frustrating if the job seeker isn’t prepared or if they expect the in-house counsel to do all the work or serve as a career coach. Be very clear about the reason you want to move in-house. It’s not a valid reason to say “work less” or “fewer hours”. This can be direspectful to in-house counsel.
Your last question should always be “do you know of anyone else who would be willing to talk to me?” and be sure to ask for an introduction. Ask them to keep you in mind for positions they hear about and ask for suggested next steps.
LM: Where do companies advertise positions?
CM: Visit company websites, many publish job openings on their “Career” page. Check out the postings on the NCBA Career Center.
Take advantage of LinkedIn. Keep your profile up-to-date; LinkedIn should be your online resume. In addition to searching your LinkedIn network for in-house connections, look for postings of corporate positions and sign up to receive emails about companies who are hiring. Do a search for companies you are interested in.
LM: Is it a problem to apply for multiple positions within the same company?
CM: There can be good reasons for doing so. For instance, if you have both a business degree and a legal degree, you could look for jobs both inside and outside the General Counsel’s office. However, seeing someone apply for a job with no experience in that area or explanation as to why they are applying is not a recipe for success as you may come across as desperate and without a plan.
Tip: If the job description says 95% of your job will be working on contracts and you have no contract experience, you will not get the job. Look for jobs that fit your skills or describe transferrable skills that you already have.
LM: Is there anything that we haven’t ask that you want to add?
CM: Personal references are valuable. Having people who are willing to reach out on your behalf can make a difference. As you look for people to connect with, search for a common element – undergrad or law school alums, service on association committees, or being active in the same community or charitable organizations.
It’s always a great idea to have other professionals who can offer guidance and advice. Find a mentor in the field who is a few steps ahead of you that you can check in with along the way.
Christine Mazzone, General Counsel at Plant Health Care, Inc., strives to be closely aligned with her business colleagues to achieve the company’s objectives in a collaborative, legally compliant manner. You can connect with Christine on LinkedIn.