Giving Thanks to the In-House Legal Community
Admittedly, Thanksgiving is an acquired taste for the authors of this article, as we are US-naturalized citizens who didn’t start celebrating the holiday until we became teenagers. Until recently, we cherished Thanksgiving for the amazing meal, the quiet days in the office leading up to the holiday, and the long weekend. After all, how could you not love sharing turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes with your family for four days?
This year, however, this holiday of giving thanks has a new dimension for us. After interviewing dozens of in-house leaders for numerous publications, we have realized how much we have learned, transformed, and been inspired in the process. We could not help but beam with gratitude this Thanksgiving for the organizations that have supported us, the in-house attorneys who shared their stories with us, and the priceless lessons we learned in the process.
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Henry David Thoreau
We are grateful that our journey has been filled with such supportive organizations. The Women General Counsel Network (WGCN) stands out for encouraging us through all of our endeavors, from law practice to writing. WGCN has been nurturing and inspiring us for years, well before we embarked on our writing journey. Jan Kang, general counsel at Bromium and one of our fellow WGCN members, perfectly articulates our collective pride in this organization. “WGCN has become an amazing force of three W's: warm, witty, and wise female general counsel,” she says. “I frankly have never imagined that I would help create a community of 270 members across the United States that openly shares and helps each other to thrive and grow.” To this day we use the three W’s as our guidance in every aspect of our careers and even in our personal lives.
We are also immensely grateful to the Above the Law community and the Association of Corporate Counsel (along with its ACCDocket.com publication). Both organizations have recognized that the in-house legal community has a distinct voice, presence, and set of needs. They have generously allowed us to explore this voice. More importantly, these organizations have provided valuable feedback and have allowed us to share the insights that we have accumulated during our journey. In the process, we have discovered the nurturing, caring, and warm side of the legal industry, especially in-house practice.
“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.” Sheryl Sandberg
Numerous in-house attorneys have generously shared their wisdom and victories with us, which has provided us with valuable opportunities for personal growth. We realized that through writing and sharing these lessons with others, we have the ability to change our profession and society. We especially valued and cherished their lessons in vulnerability, authenticity, and service to others.
For example, Eve Chaurand of Change.org shared a very powerful lesson about how she overcame imposter syndrome. According to Chaurand, empowering others is the best antidote to feelings of inadequacy. Just as leading others forces you to grow, be a better version of yourself, and discover your potential, empowering others to lead amplifies your own potential just as much as it amplifies the potential of others. As Chaurand says, "You lift yourself as you lift others." This is why she never misses an opportunity to help other attorneys understand the symptoms of imposter syndrome and strategies for overcoming it.
We also learned about authenticity and developing relationships with fellow women from Michelle Banks, former general counsel of Gap, Inc. Banks has not always been surrounded by women. Her two prior in-house jobs were as legal counsel for the Golden State Warriors and American Counsel for Itochu Corporation in Japan. In both roles, her workplace was predominantly male. "For me, the workplace feels more authentic when women are equally represented," she admits. Although she has no prejudice against men, Banks pointed out that when she arrived at Gap Inc., she had a much different connection and experience with those above her. With more women in leadership positions at Gap Inc., it was an ideal environment for Banks to grow in authenticity as an attorney. She looked to the general counsel who recruited her, Anne Gust Brown, as someone who was strong, courageous, and effective. Brown was also someone Banks personally found very likeable, and whom she could see herself wanting to emulate. "I could see being a version of her when I grew up, and that thought was inspiring and uplifting," she mentions. Banks’s story taught us that maintaining authenticity and developing important relationships with fellow professional women can be key to growing as an attorney.
“Whatever life throws at me I'll take it and be grateful for it as well.” Tom Felton
We learned numerous lessons in perseverance, value, and risk-taking. For example, Caroline Krass, general counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), shared the importance of candor and transparency in risk-taking. Every day, Krass deals with professional risk-takers who stare in the eyes of danger and live on the edge, with others’ lives — as well as their own — at stake. She relies on candor and transparency in communicating with these clients. “We communicate our true thoughts at all times,” she says. “We aim to be very clear about separating legal risks from policy ones.” According to Krass, her job is the same as a counsel’s job in private practice or a corporation. Saying “No, you can’t do this,” without further discussion, is not an option. Clients need engaging, productive conversations to analyze risks. Krass taught us that the best way to leave clients informed and empowered is to be open, honest, and transparent, without being restrictive or patronizing.
We also enjoyed learning from Alexa King, general counsel of FireEye, about knowing how and when to ask the right questions. During the interview process, she asks founders, CEOs and Board members, “What does being general counsel mean to you and how is it different from being a lawyer?” It's possibly the most important thing King does to start off on the right foot: setting expectations in a collaborative way. King believes that if you can demonstrate from that very first conversation how you, as a GC, can be a true strategic business partner who brings value to all areas of the organization, the seed you plant will reap great rewards. Having the CEO's buy-in from the very beginning is the foundation to success. Open communication and strong collaboration with other leaders within the organization is essential. Within King’s first week at a new company, she meets with the heads of each department, asks them about their main challenges, and immediately begins brainstorming how her role and department can provide solutions. King’s fearless dedication to asking the right questions has inspired us to be more open and collaborative in our own lives and careers.
2016 has been a long year for everyone, but as we launch into the holiday season, we’re choosing to look back on this year with the utmost gratitude. We are fortunate to have been encouraged and inspired by so many outstanding organizations and individuals throughout the in-house legal community. The lessons and support we’ve gathered this year give us confidence that the coming year will also be full of learning, growth, and collaboration. We’ll raise a turkey leg to that!
This article was originally published by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Docket.