The great from the good: what differentiates successful in-house counsel? Part 2

18 Jul 2018 | 3 min read

In Part 1 of our series, Louisa van Eeden introduces the first two of five key themes identified at the annual LexisNexis World Café style event which explored what distinguishes great in-house counsel from good in-house counsel - "the powerful effect of personal development" and "the value of others."

Part two in our mini series looks at the remaining three themes identified.

Theme 3: Understand what is happening at ground level

It is no surprise that “know your business” was considered critical to succeed as in-house counsel. But how to have the edge and gain insight that delivers commercial impact?

Practical steps recommended here included “work smart”. Hot desk in different departments to understand how they work, their challenges and build rapport with business colleagues. Go on company site tours and build your technical product knowledge by reviewing client facing sales and marketing materials. Take it a step further and invest time to shadow non-legal colleagues in pertinent departments.

Make it a goal to proactively initiate speaking to internal stakeholders – a simple 5-minute stand-up meeting on current projects, what’s coming up, challenges faced. This can inadvertently reveal where legal can support and add unexpected value.

An up-to-date organisation chart is also an essential tool. Equally essential is being clear about what the business expectations are of the legal department.

Theme 4: The difference between a good and great in-house lawyer

Of the myriad of skills debated by participants, excellent communication skills topped the list.

The ability to influence, persuade, ask probing questions and interpret legal jargon into layman’s terms were par for the course in relation to communication skills every in-house lawyer should have.

Practical advice on developing outstanding communication skills focused on two aspects. Active listening and the ability to read and understand your audience to tailor advice and adapt your style accordingly. These were considered the differentiators between a good and great communicator.

Theme 5: Know and link your organisation’s value drivers

On this point many attendees agreed. To get investment for personal development, and in turn, attract and retain top talent – buy-in from the organisation is key.

Linking your organisation’s value drivers to personal development planning was considered vital. But how?

First ensure that your organisation’s values are known. Values need to be succinct and clear. Furthermore, behaviours should reinforce the organisation’s values.

Practical suggestions also included linking KPIs (key performance indicators) and appraisals to values. Important to consider is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ and the values should be relevant to the in-house legal team. Also link SRA competencies to organisation values were relevant.


The World Café provided practical insights into how focused investment – time, resources and budget – into personal development can support in-house counsel hone the skills necessary to stand out from the crowd and succeed.

In turn, organisations benefit from a strong legal department able to demonstrate its value, positively influence commercial outcomes and effectively mitigate risk.

During the event a graphic artist also captured the key points debated to produce a striking, visual interpretation of the discussion. View the full-size image here.


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