Updates and advice for attorneys and law departments.

Pathways to Becoming General Counsel Part Two: The Importance of Networking and Mentoring

Recently, Assigned Counsel® hosted a roundtable discussion titled Pathways to Becoming General Counsel. One of the central themes that evolved focused on the value of mentoring and growing one’s network. 

The Benefits of Networking: Dig the Well Before You're Thirsty

“[Networking is] fun and you actually meet a lot of great people along the way. Cultivate those relationships -- you never know where they are going to end up.”

Sometimes personal connections can lead to unexpected career opportunities. For example, Nancy Peterson, Esq., shared how meeting a friend during her time at a Philadelphia law firm eventually led to an opportunity when that contact went in-house. Later in her career, her former boss became General Counsel at Allied Universal (her current employer), and she was recruited to help build out the risk-contracting compliance function of the company.

Maintaining relationships over a sustained period can bring value both personally and professionally. This is especially true in cases where organizations need to hire outside counsel for highly specific expertise more commonly marketed by law firms. Having contacts who specialize in tangential fields, whatever the circumstances of how you met, can come in handy should your company have urgent issues requiring legal expertise with a short turnaround.

Networking Opportunities Abound

There is an abundance of opportunities to grow your professional network, including but not limited to: national, state, and local bar associations; industry or business events; and pro-bono and volunteer work.  Paul Murphy, Esq., Retired Legal and Administrative Counsel, spoke about how non-profit work elevated his career. He shared how, because of his non-profit board membership, he was able to develop a network of contacts that he was later able to call upon in his role as an administrative partner.

“Cultivate your network of contacts because you never know when they can be helpful, who they know, and it can pay off and it’s fun.”

A relationship with a temporary legal staffing agency is also beneficial, both for job seekers and for in-house attorneys looking for specific legal expertise. A staffing agency can connect you with a larger network of attorneys and/or potential employers. If you are an attorney between permanent positions, a temporary assignment can help you gain in-house experience and build your resume. These assignments can often lead to permanent placements.

Networking within your organization

Many opportunities for networking exist within your organization as well. Seeking out and nurturing mutually beneficial social and professional relationships can help you learn more about the inner workings of the different departments within your organization. This creates a solid knowledge base that can help inform legal strategy as well (covered more specifically in Part I of this blog series). 

“Look up, to the side, down, and above you and make sure you develop political and social capital because those people will help you and teach you. You can learn from them and they can learn from you… [I]t makes the pathway to General Counsel much [] easier if you [] develop that political and social capital.”

Directly related to the concept of developing relationships throughout your organization is the importance of being mentored or, in the case of panelist Kamil Ali-Jackson, Esq., not being mentored. Ali-Jackson shared that the lack of having a mentor was possibly the cause for preventable challenges she faced as General Counsel:

I didn’t have a mentor. I think you need a mentor because you need somebody to help tell you in advance that there’s a hole you’re getting ready to fall into. But also you need a mentor [because] they can help you dig out of the hole. That’s one of the things that I wish I had along my pathway to becoming a General Counsel.

One academic study calling for mandatory mentoring for junior attorneys found that the most common reasons attorneys reported for not seeking assistance was the fear of judgment by others (50.6%) and concerns regarding confidentiality (44.2%). Understanding the challenges that subordinate attorneys seek is just one reason to consider implementing a mentoring program, which will be discussed more in depth in the next section.

The Real Benefits of Mentoring: Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent

According to certain studies, retention rates are 50% higher for those with a mentor than those without.1Jean E. Wallace, The Benefits of Mentoring for Female Lawyers, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 58, Issue 3, 2001, Pages 366-391.

Additionally, mentoring reportedly has a more significant impact on retention than salary raises. This is likely due to the reciprocal nature of the relationship and the fact that the value of interpersonal relationships cannot be quantified or easily replaced whereas compensation packages can easily be matched.

Financially speaking, mentorship focused on providing developmental support for inexperienced lawyers has demonstrated a positive relationship to revenues per lawyer and profits per partner.2Fleig-Palmer, Michelle M., “The Impact Of Mentoring On Retention Through Knowledge Transfer, Affective Commitment, And Trust,” page 23, (2009).

The benefits of mentoring for female lawyers are even more pronounced. According to one study focusing specifically on the benefits of mentoring female lawyers, having a mentor proved instrumental across all of the following factors:

  • Types of earnings
  • Promotional opportunities
  • Procedural justice, and
  • Social integration

Additionally, female mentees reported greater career satisfaction than those who were not mentored and stated that their individual expectations were being met to a greater degree.

Rosemarie Thomas, Esq., shared how she helped create a women’s mentoring program within her organization. The program was designed to match women new to the organization with those who had been promoted within the organization. The main purpose was to provide insight on how to be a successful attorney within the organization while maintaining a work-life balance. Her example demonstrates how establishing a mentorship program can build your credibility and demonstrate your vision for growth and cultivation long before you’re ready to apply for your first GC position.

Furthermore, the study, Mentoring Across Differences: A Guide to Cross-Gender and Cross-Race Mentoring, confirmed prior research demonstrating that mentoring is one of the keys to improving the advancement and retention of lawyers in historically underrepresented groups. Participants in the study indicated that the mentoring relationship also made them feel more vested in their work and therefore more likely to remain for the long term.

Finally, Nancy Peterson, Esq. shared her experience that the opportunity to groom future legal leaders is a rewarding experience and that it can, “keep[] you honest when you’re working with the junior people and they ask you, Well why do we do it that way? Why? And then you have to stop and pause and remember why do we do it that way. Maybe there’s a better way to do it.” Her comments underscore the learned experience that mentoring is a two-way street offering benefits to all parties involved.

For many more valuable insights from legal leaders, check out our eBook:

Assigned Counsel Incorporated has been supporting in-house legal leaders for over three decades with qualified, practice-area specific temporary attorneys. Our recruiters have all worked as practicing attorneys. We speak your language and provide cost-effective solutions for overwhelming workloads, staff absences, and any potential knowledge or expertise gaps. We’d love to talk with you about how a temporary attorney can help balance your legal department’s staffing challenges.

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