Best practices

Navigating Your First 90 Days as In-House Counsel: The First 30 days

October 16, 2023
Kathy Zhu

Table of Contents

Congrats! You're starting an in-house counsel role. In this guide, we'll take you through a first 30 days blueprint (access part two and part three of a 90-day plan) to lay a strong foundation for your role. While you may have an understanding of the company culture and values from the interview process, it’s important to dive deeper and see what’s behind the curtain now that you’re an employee. Some key tasks to tackle to set you up for success include:

Understand the business

  • For public companies, delve into the last three years of 10-K, 10-Q, and 8-K filings, proxy statements, and annual reports to understand the company’s financial health, strategic direction, and operational challenges. Leverage ChatGPT to summarize SEC filings to speed up research. 
  • For privately held companies, review shareholder updates if you have access to them.
  • Review business and accountability org charts to understand the company’s hierarchical structure and decision-making process.
  • Understand the competitive landscape: who are the competitors, and what value do they provide? Look at public filings and presentations, news releases and coverage, and industry forums and publications. If your organization sells a technology software product, look at review sites such as G2 and Capterra or analyst reports by Gartner, Forrester, or IDC. 

Understand the company goals, culture, values, process

  • Dive into company OKRs and how they apply to the legal function. For example, an emphasis on revenue growth means it’s important to focus more attention on turning sales agreements faster. An emphasis on preparing for an IPO means more focus on compliance.
  • How do the different departments interact with each other and with legal?
  • How does information flow within the company? Which teams work together?
  • How are decisions made in the company? What are the processes? Are there frameworks that are common in the company?
  • Review the legal team’s policies, playbooks, document management systems, and legal request intake processes to grasp the day-to-day responsibilities and operational protocols.

Build relationships with key stakeholders

  • Identify key stakeholders. Sometimes figuring out who the key stakeholders are can take detective work, especially if you support multiple business teams. It’s a good idea to meet with the leaders of all of those teams and understand how they typically like to work with legal, what types of legal issues they tend to need help with. If you’re the first in-house lawyer, you’ll need to train the business on how to work with you. To build that rapport and learn how to best work together, make sure to join business team meetings to learn what they are working on and what might be relevant issues to raise.
  • Find people in the organization with a lot of institutional knowledge that can give you the run down on why things are the way they are, air some skeletons, and tell you the quirks of business leaders and how to make them your allies. Learn about what’s been done in the past and how certain processes evolved.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders to introduce yourself, understand how you will work together, and start building the relationship. This includes members of the in-house legal team and business stakeholders. In these meetings, work on understanding ways of working together, aligning on expectations, establishing communication channels, cadence, and processes. Schedule recurring 1:1 meetings with your business stakeholders and manager (even if it’s a placeholder for now) to make room for consistent communication. 

Find ways to add value early

Establish early that you are here to help the business move faster, especially if you’re the first in-house counsel at the company and the team is not used to working with lawyers. For example, you might review vendor contracts for a business team and flag any potential problem areas you notice. When you see a problem area, approach it as “flagging” the issue rather than trying to raise an alarm and stop something from moving forward. Once you flag the issue, you can work with the business on creative solutions that mitigate risk but still allow the business to achieve their goals. These simple things like reviewing contracts allow you to provide helpful feedback, build partnerships across teams, and demonstrate you are here to enable business objectives.

By understanding the organization's culture, business model, and building relationships with key stakeholders, you’re now well positioned to tackle challenges and add value to your new organization. Leverage part 2 and part 3 of Streamline AI’s 90-day guide for in-house counsel to learn how to leverage the groundwork laid in the first 30 days and transition into execution.

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