In 1992 Jack Douglas, GC of Reebok wrote an influential article which outlined a 23 point plan to provide guidance on how to be a successful in-house lawyer.  Although still instructive, today the markets have changed and so below are updated versions of some of those points.  For the full 23 point plan visit

  1. Learn the style of communication most effective for your colleagues. The smartest lawyer is not always the most valuable.  You can be a technically brilliant and fail spectacularly if you don't have the ability to transfer your knowledge and to influence your colleagues. When you are in a law firm, because they are paying for your time, the client is usually motivated to listen but when you are in-house counsel, the direct billing relationship is absent.  This can make it a challenge for your advice to be heard.
  2. Always be the calmest person in the room. Too often lawyers inflame a stressful business situation, rather than providing calm and dispassionate counsel.
  3. Use humor and humility.  The legal profession still has a reputation for being dull and arrogant.  This creates barriers when you work in-house because many of your colleagues will start with this frame of reference when they first meet you.  Don't be afraid to show a sense of humor and don't act as if you know every answer - instead, ask questions.  You will know that you have achieved success when your colleague says:  "You don't act like a lawyer".
  4. Believe or leave.  In every company's history there are low points.  During those difficult periods, it is easy to get disillusioned and cynical. This negativity infects everyone you work with and will ultimately damage your reputation.  If you aren't passionate about your company and what you do, you will never be successful.  Every company has areas that need improvement.  It takes passion to identify them and drive positive change.
  5. A manager's job is to provide direction and training and remove obstacles - that's it.  Too many managers (especially new ones) make the mistake of trying to manage every detail of an employee's work. This is frequently the case with lawyers because they rarely have formal management training.  Also, many who previously worked in law firms mistakenly equate "management" with the micro-scrutiny their work received from law firm partners.
  6. Understand how you are adding value to your department - your department to your company - your company to the world. This requires an in-depth knowledge of your company's business, competitors and markets. Sometimes this linkage is not as readily visible in the legal department as it may be in other company functions, but being able to articulate it is a great motivator and also useful in helping management understand your value proposition.
  7.  Sometimes, you do have to say "no". If you have done your job effectively and established credibility, even this negative response will be valued and respected.