5 To Thrive: Tips For Establishing Credibility As New In-House Counsel
Contrary to what many may think, the role of in-house counsel is not a walk in the park. Yes, we don't have to bill -- but many of us have more work than we can accomplish with fewer resources at our fingertips. Many of us have to justify our value -- and to top it off, our clients don't always have to come to us, and even after they do, they don't have to follow our advice. This may be especially daunting when you are new to being in-house counsel or new to a company.
This is why relationship-building and establishing credibility is so important. When your clients don't have to seek your advice and counsel, consider how you can operate in such a way that they want to.
So in no particular order, here are some tips on establishing credibility, especially early on -- when you are new to being in-house counsel or receive a new client.
This first tip may be too obvious -- but it is still worth mentioning. If a client reaches out with an urgent need, nothing could be more frustrating to the client then not being able to make contact and get the help they need. Not responding is the easiest way to guarantee that you won't be contacted again.
Another take on being responsive is answer the question or solve the problem asked of you. This is not all you can do, but at the very least, be responsive to the issue presented to you.
This tip may also fall into the too obvious category, but not following through can quickly damage your personal brand at your company. If you promise to follow up on something for a client, do so. If it is going to take longer than you expect, then give the client an update. Consistent follow-through is key to building trust.
Especially when you are in a more general role as in-house counsel, you will likely receive questions outside your expertise. And while I would never encourage someone to commit malpractice by giving the wrong legal advice, I think it is also important to realize that as the lawyer in the room, you are in the best position to advise on legal risk. Resist the urge to confess that you don't know, that it is not your expertise, to give disclaimers in case you are wrong. This rings especially true if you're new to being in-house -- as outside counsel have a very low risk tolerance. Instead, use your analytical skills to give a right-ish answer, leaving room for follow up, and after research or touching base with outside counsel, follow up with more clarity. It is hard for clients to trust you if you do not trust yourself.
Following up is a little bit different from following through. This technique is intended to remind the client of the help you previously provided and show them that you are still thinking about their needs and business objectives. Extra points if you can share an article or other resource to fortify the advice you gave or make their life easier.
Use The Co-Sign
When you are new to a client or organization, you may have the additional hurdle of proving that you know and understand the company's business or that you are just as credible as the attorneys that the business folks are used to. A strategy you may want to consider using is bouncing your proposed solution off of someone that you know the client respects -- and whenever you are in the meeting, you can "borrow" the credibility of that person by disclosing that you consulted with them and there was consensus or alignment that your proposed solution is sound. You do have to be careful with this one -- I would use it sparingly. You don't want to risk appearing as if you didn't know the answer and had to seek help. Rather the purpose is to emphasize that the person with established credibility essentially "co-signed" or agreed with your brilliance.
Meyling "Mey" Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a "fun" mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.