Senior lawyers are increasingly relied on by the C-suite team to offer advice on company strategy and business. Stephanie Greaves tackles how to best present yourself when looking for new roles.
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Wanted: A business-minded lawyer (the reality of being a senior player)

Posted by: Stephanie Greaves 28/06/16
“Business-minded”, “commercially minded”, “business orientated”, “a true business partner”. Chances are if you have explored the legal job market recently, one of the above is systematically cited as a quality sought for in a legal counsel.

It is admittedly difficult to exercise one’s legal functions in the solitary confinement of an office these days, therefore it is likely you will benefit from a good level of interaction with those in the business in which you operate, but how is it possible to articulate this in such a way that you can confidently sell yourself as “business-minded”? If you are curious, and communicate with ease, chances are you will have naturally developed a good rapport with the business, however a reliable measure will be to assess at what stage in the decision making process do you intervene? Do operational functions consult you spontaneously, consultatively, or is your opinion required for good measure at validation stage? In some companies, you may have faced the frustration of the legal function not having sufficient weight or support. What proactive measures have you taken to ensure that you are visible, have an understanding of business implications, and are seen as approachable and adding value?

Increasingly as recruiters, we are briefed to present candidates who will act as true ambassadors to the legal function; not only do you have to be business-minded for your company as a whole, you also need to perceive your legal function as an internal business, and one that requires promotion and initiative. This perception also implies that your success in the function is measurable. Rationalisation of procedures, training sales functions on basic contract issues, introducing new technology and templates, are all ways of ensuring that you intervene only where your technical expertise is essential. This translates into a reduction of external legal fees, which is always of great interest to potential employers.

In order to sell your ‘business-mindedness’ you need to put forward not only what you have done but what you have achieved, and how you have impacted the legal function. As a business partner, you also need be smooth in building relationships and gaining trust, thus enabling you to be a strong and accountable voice when legal stakes are high.

Whilst it’s granted that the term “business-orientated” can seem generic and empty in meaning, the way in which you interact with non-legal functions will be instrumental in steering your career in the desired direction. The manner in which you articulate this (during and interview and on your CV), through providing demonstrable examples, and showing genuine curiosity on business issues, will be the true focus point for recruiters advertising for “a true business partner”.
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