New to In-House or Have a New In-House Gig? Here are Five Things to do to Better Understand your Client

By Kathy Twiddy

So, you’ve recently made the leap to in-house life, or perhaps you’ve been in previous in-house roles but have accepted a position at a new company. How do you get off on the right foot in your new job?

Having been in that position a few times myself, here are five things to do that will help you understand your new employer and be a better lawyer for your new client.

  1. What is the company’s history? Unless you are working for a brand-new start-up, your company will have a history, and there will be someone there who can give you the details on where the company’s been. History is almost always relevant to future decision-making, and those who know the history will appreciate the fact that you care about the company’s story.
  2. Is the company public? If so, review its most recent SEC filings. This seems like a no-brainer, but not everyone is attuned to the wealth of information that can be found in a public company’s filings.  In particular, take a look at its last published risk factors (as included in its most recent 10-K report) so that you can better understand the types of things the legal department is worried about.
  3. Set up “one-on-ones” with key players in various departments. If you are a newly-installed General Counsel, this may be the CEO’s direct reports; if you are on the legal team but not leading it, ask your manager to help you come up with a list of people to meet.  The goal will be to have your clients explain their individual and department goals, how they like to work with in-house counsel, and to understand cross-functional conflicts that might exist within the company.
  4. Find resources to help you better understand your company’s industry. This is particularly key if it’s an industry in which you have little experience, but even if that’s not the case a refresher might be in order.  Demonstrating to your client that you understand key trends affecting the industry will encourage your client to draw you into all types of conversations.  This will help you gain your co-workers’ trust, as well as to better understand management decisions.
  5. Understand how the company makes money, and the key factors that sometimes get in the way. If you are working for a for-profit venture, the company will have financial goals. Understanding the levers that make the most difference for your company will help you better understand your client’s motivations and priorities.